The first EV-71 infection with neurological symptoms was reported in California in 1969. Outbreaks have since occurred periodically in the U.S. and Europe, but the disease has been a stubborn menace in Asia, typically occurring in cycles. Some experts have warned that if the virus isn't controlled, it can jump borders and threaten other regions as well. In fact, some wonder if the recent Cambodia cases could have spread from Vietnam, where about 63,000 cases have been reported so far this year.
Dr. Pham Nhat An, vice director of the National Hospital of Pediatrics in Hanoi, says he has dealt with the disease for three decades. But it didn't start killing until two years ago, when the number of hospitalized cases started to spike.
"It's worrying," he said in his office. "We need to think about a vaccine. It will help, especially for the EV-71."
In a unit on the other side of the building, the dedicated father, Trung, sits on the edge of a bed fanning little Giang, who probably caught the disease from a mildly ill cousin who was staying with them at the time.
Giang was just 13 months old when he began burning hot with fever. He didn't seem overly sick and continued to play, so his parents believed it was a bug that would quickly pass. By morning, the baby was purple and convulsing. His lungs were shutting down.
Now the chubby boy can sit, and he occasionally musters a quick smile. But he remains lethargic, with tubes running out of his nose and throat. Trung had to quit his job to help his wife care for the child 24 hours a day in the hospital, which is common in many parts of Asia where nursing staff is thin.
"This is a very serious disease, and it can result in very serious health consequences," Trung said. "People need to be very cautious and they need to strengthen surveillance to try to prevent the disease."
Associated Press writer Gillian Wong contributed to this report from Hunan, China.
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