Video: Children battling deadly disease

updated 5/5/2008 2:41:30 PM ET 2008-05-05T18:41:30

China reported a jump Monday in the number of children sickened with hand, foot and mouth disease, saying more than 11,900 cases have been reported.

At least 24 deaths in the central province of Anhui and Guangdong province in the south have been blamed on enterovirus 71, one of several viruses that cause the disease, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Two other children — one in Guangdong and another in the coastal province of Zhejiang — have also died of hand, foot and mouth disease but it wasn't immediately clear which strain of virus killed them, it said.

Xinhua said 10,212 children had been reported infected in the hardest-hit areas, including the provinces of Anhui, Guangdong, Zhejiang, and the capital Beijing. All were below the age of 6 and the majority were under the age of 2, it said.

The total number of infections reported nationwide by Monday was 11,905, Xinhua said, with smaller outbreaks in Hebei, Jiangsu, Hunan, Hubei, Shaanxi, Jiangxi and Henan provinces and in the city of Chongqing.

Though nearly all the deaths have been blamed on enterovirus 71, also known as EV-71, it was not immediately clear how many of the overall infections were traced to the virus.

Zhejiang's provincial health bureau said on its Web site that only nine of its 1,198 cases had tested positive for EV-71. Chongqing said none of its 42 infections have been confirmed to be cause by EV-71.

Xinhua said the jump in cases was due in part to a new regulation from the Ministry of Health classifying hand, foot and mouth disease among those that have to be reported to the central government.

The agency said a majority of the cases were reported in Anhui province, where 5,840 cases were reported, nearly all of them in the fast-growing city of Fuyang.

On Monday, the Anhui government punished 10 people, including five officials and four doctors, in the province for failing to properly tackle the disease, Xinhua said. The Taihe county officials had not helped spread knowledge about the disease, it said.

The report said two doctors had made money by selling injections of an immune globulin, made up of antibodies from blood, that they said could cure enterovirus 71. One of the doctors in Taihe county had injected it into 17 children, Xinhua said.

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Two doctors in Fuyang, were given demerits for failing to properly examine a patient after the patient came in with a fever and vomiting, Xinhua said. The patient was given an intravenous drip and not transferred to another hospital.

Enterovirus causes a severe form of hand, foot and mouth disease with symptoms including fever, mouth sores and rashes with blisters. It is easily spread by sneezing or coughing. The viruses mainly strike children ages 10 and younger. Some cases can lead to fatal swelling of the brain.

The illness is not related to foot and mouth disease, which afflicts livestock.

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

The World Health Organization says the virus normally peaks in June and July so there could still be an increase in infections as the weather warms.

The outbreak is another headache for China's Communist government as it prepares to host this summer's Olympic Games, already tarnished by unrest among Tibetans in western China and an international torch relay disrupted by protests.

WHO's China representative, Hans Troedsson, said the disease was not a threat to the Beijing Olympics because the disease mostly sickens young children.

China's Health Ministry has sent teams to Anhui to coordinate treatment of the disease and prevent its spread.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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