Scores of Cambodian children have died from a mysterious disease that begins as a severe fever and moves on to menace the respiratory and neurological systems, leading to "rapid deterioration of respiratory functions," the World Health Organization said Wednesday.
The cause of the illness is under investigation by the U.N. agency and Cambodian officials.
So far, 61 out of the 62 children admitted to Cambodian hospitals with the illness have died, the WHO said in a joint statement Wednesday with the Cambodian Health Ministry. Most of the cases have come from southern Cambodia, but "no apparent clustering of cases" has happened so far, it said.
Figuring out the cause of the illness may take some time, Cambodian Health Minister H.E. Mam Bunheng said.
The WHO is monitoring the situation and providing technical assistance. Although neighboring countries have been warned about the illness, it does not appear to be highly contagious.
"To date, there is no report of any staff or any neighboring patients to the cases at the hospitals becoming sick with similar symptoms," the WHO told Agence France-Presse.
Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital in Phnom Penh first alerted the Cambodian government to the disease. Hospital founder Beat Richner was quoted in the Phnom Penh Post as saying that the children had suffered acute inflammation of the brain and were treated at private clinics before being hospitalized, and speculating that "a wrong treatment" might have caused "a pneumonia we cannot treat."
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles