Dioxin must be considered as a possible cause of the unidentified skin syndrome that has affected about 200 people, 23 of whom have died, in central Quang Ngai Province since last year, many experts warned at a seminar.
They voiced their concern at the seminar held by the Health Ministry in Da Nang City yesterday to discuss possible causes of the strange disease characterized by thickened skin (keratosis) over the palms and soles, causing stiffness in the limbs and ulcers on victims’ hands and feet that look like burns.
| A patient of the unidentified skin disease being treated at the Ba To District Health Center in Quang Ngai Province |
Photo: Tuoi Tre
Most experts agreed that the syndrome might be caused by intoxication from harmful substances in the environment, including dioxin, which is used to refer to a family of toxic chemicals that have been considered by the US Environmental Protection Agency as likely to be human carcinogens and are anticipated to increase the risk of cancer at background levels of exposure.
Dioxins can be commonly detected in air, soil, sediment and food.
Dr Pham Due, director of the Poison Control Center at the Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi, said dioxin should be considered as a possible agent that caused liver injuries and keratosis in patients.
“I have suspected that dioxin is related to the strange disease, but we have yet to conduct tests for dioxin in samples due to high costs,” Due said.
Many people think dioxin has only been present in the environment in Vietnam since it used in the Vietnam War before 1975, but in fact the chemical can be also found in plant protection drugs, he warned.
Tran Hau Khang, director of the Central Dermatological Hospital, agreed with Due, saying that patients might have been infected with dioxin present in pesticides used in agricultural production.
The Medical Examination and Treatment Department, under the Health Ministry, told the conference that the ministry met with representatives of the US Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) on June 6 about the inclusion of dioxin as a possible cause.
The CDC and WHO will take steps to determine the role of dioxin in the strange syndrome, said Luong Ngoc Khue, head of the department.
The Asian Dermatological Association also said they, if requested, would send experts to Vietnam to help identify the cause of the mysterious disease, Khue said.