Alert issued as common virus kills 24 children

A COMMON illness that typically causes little more than a fever and rash has killed 24 children in China, and health officials fear the worst may be yet to come as outbreaks occur in neighbouring countries.

China’s Health Ministry issued a nationwide alert over the weekend after the enterovirus 71 virus, or EV-71, which causes hand, foot and mouth disease, infected more than 4,500 children in central Anhui province.

Vietnam and Singapore also have seen an increase in cases linked to EV-71.

The outbreak in China comes as the country gears up for the Olympic Games. But Hans Troedsson, the World Health Organisation’s country representative for China, said the disease should not disrupt the Beijing games, which start August 8.

“I don’t see it at all as a threat to the Olympics or any upcoming events . . . This is a disease mainly affecting young children.”

The outbreak is centred around Fuyang city, where 22 deaths have occurred. Yesterday, the official Xinhua News Agency said the virus had claimed the lives of two more children in southern Guangdong province.

“That’s an extraordinarily high fatality rate, and that’s what caught our attention,” said Peter Cordingley, spokesman for WHO’s regional Western Pacific office. “Otherwise, it would have passed under the radar.”

Hand, foot and mouth disease is a childhood illness found worldwide that spreads through contact with saliva, faeces, fluid secreted from blisters or mucus from the nose and throat. Symptoms typically include fever, skin rashes and sores inside the mouth and on fingers and toes.

There is no vaccine or specific treatment, but most children affected by the disease typically recover quickly without problems.

However, EV-71 can result in a more serious form of the illness that can lead to paralysis, brain-swelling or death. Many of the severe cases in China did not exhibit typical symptoms, and the children eventually died from respiratory problems, which kept Chinese experts puzzled about the cause of the outbreak.


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