The United States is offering to help China in its fight against a viral infection that has killed 34 children, including two reported Friday, and sickened thousands of others.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt is making a previously scheduled trip to Beijing next week and plans to discuss health issues with Chinese officials, with the outbreaks of hand, foot and mouth disease expected to feature prominently, U.S. Embassy spokesman Susan Stevenson said.
The scope and volume of infections brings to mind the SARS epidemic of 2003, when China was criticized internationally for trying to conceal the emergence of the disease. American health experts have previously helped with the epidemiology of infectious diseases like SARS.
Chinese officials have said the outbreaks will not affect the Beijing Olympics in August. Preparations already have been marred by unrest in Tibet and demonstrations against China’s human rights record during the Olympic torch relay around the world.
The latest deaths occurred in the hardest-hit central province of Anhui, where 22 children have died of hand, foot and mouth disease, the provincial health bureau said on its Web site.
It said serious cases, however, were on the decline in Fuyang city, the site of the most infections and where the first wave of outbreaks was recorded.
As of Friday, the number of reported cases countrywide jumped to 27,499, a 10 percent increase from the 24,932 reported a day earlier, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Cases have cropped up from Guangdong province in the south to Jilin province in the northeast, along with major cities like Beijing and Shanghai.
No vaccine, specific treatment
Health experts have said they expect the number of reported infections to rise as a result of a Ministry of Health order this week requiring health care providers to report infections within 24 hours. The disease is expected to peak in the hot months of June and July.
Telephones at the Ministry of Health were not answered Friday.
Stevenson said William Steiger, director of the Office of Global Health Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told a group of Chinese journalists in Washington this week that the U.S. “is glad to help when and if needed.” No details were given.
Most cases of hand, foot and mouth in China this year have been blamed on enterovirus 71, a virus that can cause a severe form of the disease.
Hand, foot and mouth disease spreads through contact with saliva, feces, fluid secreted from blisters or mucus from the nose and throat. There is no vaccine or specific treatment, but most children affected by the disease typically recover quickly without problems after suffering little more than a fever and rash.
Last year, 80,000 hand, foot and mouth cases were recorded nationwide with 17 deaths, the health ministry has said. Spokesman Mao Qun’an said the figures were probably incomplete because reporting wasn’t mandatory then.
The ailment is unrelated to the foot and mouth disease that affects livestock.