PHNOM PENH - The government has ordered the closure of public and private schools, two weeks ahead of scheduled holiday for preschool up to primary school, in an effort to contain the spread of a deadly virus.
Nearly 80 cases have been reported in the last six months, according to the Ministry of Health and World Health Organization. At least 54 children have died, after contracting Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease from a virus known as EV71, health officials said.
Most of the dead are very young children from impoverished families who lack the nutrition to fight off the disease, they said. Children under three are the most vulnerable.
The spread of the disease has been widely reported in recent weeks, causing some parents to keep their children from school already.
Ly Sovan, deputy director of the communicable disease department of the Health Minstry, said children are still contracting the virus, though there were no new deaths reported. Officials are still investigating and gathering data, he said.
Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease is caused by Enterovirus 71. Its symptoms include fever, blister-like sores of the mouth and skin rash, according to the US Centers for Disease Control. It is spread through direct contact, either person to person or via surfaces touched by infected persons and then touched by others.
Ly Sovan said officials are training physicians in hospitals nationwide to watch for the disease and to help educate people about keeping a clean home environment. It is also important to bring an ill child to the hospital as early as possible, he said.
Peter Van Maren, the WHO’s Cambodia representative, advised people to always clean their hands and feet, especially after leaving the bathroom and before eating.