Health officials in Cambodia are working closely with the World Health Organization to determine why 61 children have died mysteriously after suffering fever, severe neurological and respiratory complications.
At least 56 of the deaths were preceded by a common syndrome of fever and respiratory and neurological problems, according to CNN.
Seventy-four cases of the disease have been identified, the ministry said.
Countries surrounding Cambodia were informed of a deadly disease that killed dozens of children this week through the International Health Regulations event information system, which provides public health communications.
In Hong Kong, a major air hub in the region, health officials responded by alerting doctors to be watchful for patients returning from Cambodia who have respiratory symptoms. Travelers who have been to Cambodia were told to visit their doctors if they developed respiratory symptoms.
The unknown illness appears in children, according to the WHO and the Cambodian Ministry of Health.
A majority of the identified cases were in children under 3, the health ministry said.
“The investigation is ongoing. We are looking at detailed information from the hospital records and analyzing each and every case. We hope to have a better picture in the coming days,” said Dr. Ly Sovann, a deputy director at the ministry.
The children who fell ill first experienced a high fever followed by respiratory problems. Some of them also had neurological symptoms that included convulsions, according to the WHO.
Richner said the patients suffered from encephalitis, which is the inflammation of the brain.
“They are hospitalized,” he said. “They arrive in our hospital; in the last moments … they die because their lungs are destroyed.”
When asked what he thought caused the deadly illness, he said: “I think our idea is an enterovirus or an intoxication of a drug,” or a combination of both.
Richner added that the number of cases affected by the unknown disease is low — 34 cases in June, compared with the 75,000 sick children at Kantha Bopha’s outpatient clinics and 16,000 hospitalized kids.
The majority of the cases came from the southern part of the country, but there haven’t been signs of clustering, according to the WHO.