Ministry, WHO Announce Outbreak Of Hepatitis A in Xieng Khuang

Source: Vientiane Times

The Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation in Laos jointly held a press conference last week to put an end to the rumours concerning the so-called “new mystery disease” that had been circulating on social media.

Many people received updates on Facebook concerning an unidentified illness that struck down about 60 people in Xieng Khuang province this week, causing widespread concern and speculation about this “new” disease.

Speaking at the press conference, Director General of the ministry’s Communicable Disease Control Department, Dr Bounlay Phommasack, said the people who had become ill had developed viral hepatitis A.

“It is not a dangerous condition. Some people just need to rest for a week and then they feel better,” he said.

Hepatitis A is commonly caused by eating unclean food such as dirty vegetables and drinking water. So far, 60 people are being treated at the hospital, all of whom have mild symptoms.

To guard against the disease, Dr Bounlay advised people to follow certain basic rules of hygiene. Vegetables must be thoroughly washed with clean or salted water before they are eaten. Water collected from unsafe sources must be boiled before drinking, especially in communities that do not have latrines.

Team Leader of Communicable Diseases Surveillance and Response at the World Health Organisation in Laos, Dr Dapeng Luo, said hepatitis A is not a new disease. It has been around for a long time, in Laos and most other countries.

Hepatitis A is transmitted through the ingestion of contaminated food or water, primarily by the faecal-oral route. Acute infection may occur with limited or no symptoms, or may include mild symptoms such as jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), dark urine, extreme fatigue, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Severity of the disease and fatal outcome is very low.

Maintaining proper hygiene and sanitation is recommended. Care should be taken when preparing food and infected patients should avoid preparing food for others. It may be good to avoid sharing utensils and cups with others, and water should be boiled before drinking it.

If you are caring for a patient recovering from these symptoms, wash your hands regularly with soap after coming into close contact with the patient. Patients are advised to stay home, get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids and take medication for fever if needed.

Deputy Minister of Health Dr Khamphone Phoutthavong was informed of the hepatitis A outbreak in Xieng Khuang province at the Emergency Operation Centre on Thursday morning.

There has been an increasing trend of reported jaundice cases which seem to have spiked this month with a total of 82 cumulative cases reported since early July.

Given the gravity of the situation, a joint Ministry of Health/WHO team went to Xieng Khuang province to investigate the situation. The team met with the Director of the Xieng Khuang provincial Health Office and staff from surveillance, water and sanitation, health education, and immunisation divisions, who participated in the investigation.

They also visited Xieng Khuang provincial Hospital that afternoon to verify the rumours that there were more than 200 patients at the hospital, but they found the 200 cases to be cumulative numbers from January this year.

At the hospital, they found 20 jaundiced people with mild symptoms like yellowing of the skin and eyes. No deaths have occurred so far. Clusters within households and work environments have been reported. The clinical pictures of patients are compatible with hepatitis A.

The team will collect samples from patients and they will be tested in Vientiane. A six-year-old female from Paek district sought treatment at Mahosot Hospital where a rapid test for hepatitis A was done and was positive.

Based on initial epidemiological and clinical findings, the team concluded that it was likely to be a viral hepatitis A outbreak.

The ministry has provided the province with support for clinical management and activated the Emergency Operation Centre at the province level and a hotline for reporting and advice.