60 civilians fallen ill by an unknown disease in a Karen National Union (KNU)-controlled area

At least 60 civilians, mostly schoolchildren, have fallen ill by an unknown disease in an epidemic that has broken out in a Karen National Union (KNU)-controlled area in Papun district in northern Karen State.

About 300 people have been infected in the last two weeks, and about 60 remain in serious condition, Karen sources said.

Most of the victims are children from a middle school, which has closed due the outbreak, said Eh Na, the editor of Kwekalu, a Karen news organization.

Eh Na said a field medic speaking via satellite phone from Taw Auu Den, one of the affected villages, reported that he was unable to identify the disease.

The medic said the infected children suffered from sore throats, coughs and fevers up to 40 degrees Celsius.

“When children suffer such high fevers, there is a great risk that they can go into shock and fall unconscious,” Eh Na said.

The current epidemic has spread to four villages in Papun District, which Rangoon-based nongovernmental and international nongovernmental organizations cannot reach, he said. He said infected villagers faced higher risks because only limited amounts of medicine from relief groups such as the Free Burma Rangers and the Back Pack Health Workers Team could reach the villages due to their remote location.

The medic said several children died from a similar kind of disease in September, 2008. Malaria and seasonal influenza commonly infect people living in remote areas in Karen State.

Mahn Mahn, the director of the Back Pack Health Workers Team, said the symptoms of the disease are similar to those of seasonal flu, but it was more contagious and spread faster than anything they had experienced.

Mahn Mahn said he has sent a group of health workers to the affected areas to provide medicines and monitor the outbreak.

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