Deadly epidemic kills 22 children

Doctors dealing with an itnestinal virus that has killed 22 children and infected over 3,300 others have not yet got the deadly outbreak under control, according to Chinese media.


Doctors in China struggled to contain the spread of an intestinal virus that has infected more than 3,300 children, killing 22 of them so far, state press reported Friday.

The latest death occurred in the city of Fuyang in Anhui province, the epicentre of the epidemic with 3,321 children infected there as of Friday, Xinhua news agency reported, citing local health officials.

Another 340 children in central Hubei province are being tested for the disease.

The number of children in Anhui infected with the enterovirus 71, or EV71, has risen by nearly 400 since Thursday, the report said.

EV71, which can cause hand, foot and mouth disease, is highly contagious and spread through direct contact with the mucus, saliva or faeces of an infected person. Young children are most susceptible because of lower immune systems.

The disease -- which begins with fever, blisters, mouth ulcers and rashes -- has spread in Anhui since early March, amid accusations by the Chinese media of a government-led cover-up of the epidemic.

Five other cases of EV71 have been confirmed in the city of Hangzhou in eastern Zhejiang province, while 16 children were earlier reported to have fallen ill in Henan province, which borders Anhui.

In Hubei, 340 children were confirmed to have hand, foot and mouth disease, and local officials were testing them for EV71, Xinhua said in a separate report. So far, five children tested all were positive.

In the Fuyang outbreak, 978 children are currently being treated in hospital, 48 of whom are in critical condition, the report said.

The government has sent 32 specialists to Fuyang and given local authorities emergency powers to quarantine patients and control traffic in and out of the city, it added.

"Authorities in Anhui and Fuyang are doing (their) utmost to treat the children and strengthen disease control," it quoted provincial spokesman Wang Yan as saying.

News of the epidemic only surfaced on Monday, when it was reported that 19 children had died.

State television showed video footage of parents from rural areas of Anhui bringing their toddlers to overcrowded hospitals in Fuyang.

Health officials warned that although older people may not show symptoms of the disease, they could be carriers of the virus and could possibly infect others, the report said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said Friday it did not intend to issue travel restrictions on China after earlier this week expressing concern over the epidemic, which in serious cases can lead to brain, heart and lung damage.

It said in a statement Wednesday that while enteroviruses are found across the world, "the situation (in Anhui) is still of concern especially because of the current high reported case fatality rate compared to previous years."

China's health ministry has tried to calm fears, saying early discovery of the disease and better treatment has lowered the mortality rate, but has warned that the disease was likely to spread.

"We estimate that the hand, foot and mouth disease (caused by EV71) in Fuyang city will still continue for some time, the number of cases will continue to increase, and serious and fatal cases might still continue to happen," the ministry said Wednesday.

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