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Monday, May 27 2019 @ 11:12 AM UTC

Panama tries to identify lethal mystery disease

HealthcarePANAMA CITY (Reuters) - At least 10 people have died and dozens more are hospitalized due to a mysterious respiratory illness that has struck indigenous villages in western Panama, health authorities said on Wednesday. The health ministry said epidemiologists are still trying to identify the illness that has killed at least 10 people and hospitalized 67 more. Panamanian media say the death toll could be closer to 50. Local media reported the first deaths about two months ago. The majority of victims are said to be indigenous children under 5. Symptoms include coughing, fever and difficulty breathing. The outbreak comes a year after the death of at least 94 people who drank a Chinese-made tainted cough syrup. It took the government some time to establish what had caused the deaths. (more)

The new mystery illness has occurred between the Panama City and the Costa Rican border, in an area known as Ngobe Bugle, one of several indigenous regions in Panama.

Ngobe Bugle is one of Panama's poorest areas, with high levels of malnutrition.

According to Nutre Hogar, a charity which works on children's health, one in three indigenous children in Panama is malnourished. One senior foreign health official, who asked not to be named, said the spate of deaths was caused by complications linked to malnutrition.

In a statement, the health ministry called on Panamanians to be alert for symptoms of the disease, which may spread more easily due to wet conditions.

The illness has struck during Panama's rainy season, which brings frequent downpours from May to December.

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