There is an unknown and deadly disease killing children in Cambodia. So far, at least 56 kids have died of the mysterious illness. There have been only one or two survivors. All of the victims have been from age 2 – 7. That’s enough to terrify anyone on a Monday morning.
It’s not very often that you hear of a new, unknown and deadly disease unless you’re reading science fiction. In today’s world of modern medicine, we’re used to identifiable problems that we hopefully have some way to control and cure. Even our epidemics have names and courses of treatment to make everyone feel confident that the situation is being handled.
This is the exception. There’s very little that doctors in Cambodia can do to help treat this illness, because they don’t know what it is or what’s causing it. All they know is that this life-threatening disease begins with a high fever and deteriorates quickly by effecting the neurological and respiratory systems. Pediatrician Beat Richner, the founder of Kantha Bopha children’s hospitals, which see around 85 percent of Cambodia’s severely ill youngsters who make it to treatment, says, ”We think it’s either a virus, an intoxication, or both.” This is the man who brought the disease to the World Health Organization’s attention to begin with. The fact that he’s still confused about the type of illness they’re dealing with is honestly terrifying.
And that’s the thing. This disease is terrifying because no one knows what it is. It’s a mystery. It’s something that could spread throughout the world and threaten the lives of children everywhere. Even though it’s stricken a small number of children in a small country, it’s an unknown and deadly disease.
It’s scary, and because of that, this health issue for Cambodia has seen quite a lot of press. Last time I checked, Google News had 4510 results for “Unknown Disease Cambodia.” That’s a lot of media attention for such a small country.
It’s interesting given another point that Dr. Richner brought up while discussing the unknown disease. He was warning parents that there shouldn’t be hysteria over this mysterious killer. After all, they have a bigger problem to be concerned about. In the month of June alone, over 5,000 children have been hospitalized for hemorrhagic dengue fever.
Children in Cambodia are 90 times more likely to suffer from this deadly disease, which involves bleeding, low levels of blood platelets and blood plasma leakage. It is an actual epidemic-level tropical disease. And interestingly enough, want to guess how many mentions dengue fever has on Google News right now? 2400. It’s a little more than half of the coverage afforded to the unknown killer of 56 children.
Yes, unknown diseases are scary. They’re interesting because everyone love’s a mystery. But they also get press coverage because they stoke fear in parents everywhere. Dengue fever, however, is a tropical disease that most of us won’t have to worry about. So even though it threatens almost 90 times as many children a month, we’re not talking about that here. We aren’t quite so worried.
I think it’s important that we realize that when people are talking about this killer in Cambodia, they aren’t really thinking about the kids. The science? Sure. The threat? Maybe. But if it we were really having a conversation about kids in Cambodia, wouldn’t the disease that’s killing much more of them get a little more attention that a footnote?
(Photo: World Health Organization)