Vietnam has asked the World Health Organization to help investigate a mystery skin condition that has killed 19 people and infected 171 others in central Vietnam over the last year.

Le Han Phong, chairman of the People's Committee in Ba To district in Quang Ngai province said that most of the people affected by the illness were children, according to the Associated Press.

Those infected first experience a rash that covers their hands and feet, along with a high fever, loss of appetite, and those not treated earlier eventually develop liver problems and multi-organ failure.

Phong said that nearly 100 people are still hospitalized, including 10 in critical condition and those with milder symptoms are being treated at home.

The skin condition responds well to treatments if detected early.  However 29 people have been reinfected. 

The Ministry of Health have sent a team to Ba To district twice in October 2011 and once this month to investigate, but they were unable to determine the cause of the strange skin illness, according to VietNamNet.

“We have decided to ask the Ministry of Health to ask assistance from the WHO and the US Disease Control Agency to research the bizarre skin disease. International experts are very interested in this disease and they are willing to help Vietnam,” says Mr. Nguyen Trong Khoa, vice chief of the Agency for Disease Examination and Treatment.

The ministry has called on the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help investigate, but a WHO spokesman said the Geneva-based group has not received the request from Vietnam, according to AP.

"We can't investigate without an official request," Tarik Jasarevic told AP.

The illness was first discovered in last April, but by October the number of people infected has died down.  However a wave of new infections started in March, and there were 68 cases and eight deaths reported between March 27 and April 5, according to Phong. 

“The development of the disease at Ba Dien commune is really complicated and critical; the numbers of new cases and recurrence cases are increasing dramatically,” Phong said, according to Thanh Nien News. “Local people’s lives are being threatened hour by hour.”

Most of those affected are from Ba Dien village in Ba To district, one of the most impoverished districts in the province.