April 28, 2008 / 5:28 AM / 11 years ago

China steps up monitoring of deadly virus outbreak

BEIJING (Reuters) - An eastern Chinese province has introduced a daily reporting system to monitor the spread of a virus that has killed 19 children and spread panic among residents, Xinhua news agency reported on Monday.

The enterovirus 71, or EV71, which can cause hand, foot and mouth disease, began spreading in Anhui province’s Fuyang city from early March, Xinhua said, but was only publicly reported on Sunday.

The virus had been found before in China, but “we believe the situation is still of concern, especially because of the current high reported case fatality rate compared to previous years”, the World Health Organisation’s acting China Representative, Cris Tunon, said in a statement.

WHO recommended that parents keep their children away from public places during an outbreak and make sure they frequently wash their hands.

In a sign of new attention to the outbreak, Health Minister Chen Zhu visited Fuyang at the weekend. The provincial health department will also host workshops to train more medical workers in prevention and cure of the virus, the report said.

By Monday, there were 915 cases, a jump of more than 100 from the figures released at the weekend, Xinhua reported.

Among them were 19 deaths, the majority of them children under the age of two. A total of 269 children remained in hospital, seven in critical condition, Xinhua said.

Enteroviruses spread mostly through contact with infected blisters or faeces and can cause high fever, paralysis and swelling of the brain or its lining.

There is no vaccine or antiviral agent available to treat or prevent the virus. Instead, treatment focuses on managing its complications, which can include meningitis and heart failure, the WHO’s Tunon said.

EV71 outbreaks have occurred in past years in Southeast Asia and some East European countries.

Reporting by Lindsay Beck; Editing by Nick Macfie

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