China orders nationwide fight against child virus
By Andrew Torchia
Sat May 3, 2008 7:58am EDT

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China ordered authorities on Saturday to tackle hand, foot and mouth disease aggressively ahead of the Beijing Olympics after a rapidly spreading outbreak killed at least 23 children and infected nearly 4,000.

"Our doctors will leave hospitals to find potential patients rather than sitting in the hospitals to wait for them," deputy health minister Liu Qian told state television in the worst-hit area, Fuyang city in the eastern province of Anhui.

The Ministry of Health said cases of the disease might increase in coming months because its peak season was in June and July. Cases in some Chinese provinces, as well as Taiwan and Singapore, are running above year-ago levels, it said.

It ordered health authorities across the country to report all cases within 24 hours and step up controls ahead of the Olympics in August.

Officials will visit nurseries and primary schools to educate staff on hygiene and prevention steps, and Chinese scientists will increase research into the disease.

In Fuyang, 22 children have died from hand, foot and mouth disease and 3,321 have been infected. Fifty eight are critically ill or in a serious condition, the ministry said.

State television showed pictures of anxious mothers bringing their children to hospital and of frightened children lying in hospital beds, one of them with bandages around his head.

STRENGTHENING SUPERVISION

The ministry said special equipment was being installed in children's wards of Fuyang hospitals to treat patients. Local authorities are strengthening supervision of food safety and water quality in an effort to stop the disease spreading.

Kindergartens in Fuyang, which had been due to reopen on Monday after a holiday weekend, will stay closed until May 12.

The disease began spreading in Anhui in early March. But a delay in reporting it to the public until last weekend triggered heated discussion and criticism in the Chinese media, which said local government officials should be sacked.

Health officials say there was no cover-up in Anhui and the reason for the delay was that medical teams were trying to work out what the illness was.

An initial cover-up of the SARS epidemic in 2003 led to the sacking of Beijing's mayor and the health minister.

Hand, foot, and mouth disease, characterized by fever, sores in the mouth and a rash with blisters, is a common illness among infants and children and is usually not fatal, according to the National Center for Infectious Diseases in the United States.

The cases in Fuyang were caused by infection with the enterovirus 71, or EV71. Complications due to EV71 were responsible for the deaths in Fuyang, the World Health Organization said on its website (www.who.int).

Hand, foot and mouth disease has been reported this year without fatalities in several other eastern and central Chinese provinces, the official Xinhua news agency said.

But the death of an 18-month-old boy in the southern province of Guangdong on Friday suggests the disease may have spread to the south. The boy apparently died from the disease after contracting it through EV71, Xinhua reported.

There is no vaccine or antiviral agent available to treat or prevent EV71. Enteroviruses spread mostly through contact with infected blisters or feces and can cause higher fever, paralysis and swelling of the brain.

(Reporting by Andrew Torchia; Editing by Robert Woodward)


Original article: Reuters
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