China has reported two more deaths from a severe form of hand, foot and mouth disease, bringing the death toll from the outbreak to 30. All the victims were young children. The official media reports that the number of infections by EV 71 virus has risen to nearly 20,000. The current wave first began in the city of Fuyang in the eastern province of Anhui and has spread to nearby provinces.
Children are more likely to be susceptible to HFMD
Since the end of March, Doctor Liu Xiaolin hasn’t got much sleep. Liu is the chief paediatrician at the Hospital Number One in the city of Fuyang. No other place in China has been hit so hard by the outbreak of the Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease (HFMD) as this town in the eastern Anhui province. At least 22 children have already died in Fuyang. Most of them were less than two years old.
At least 6,000 cases have so far been reported from this town alone. Nearly 1,300 of them are currently being treated by Doctor Liu Xiaolin and her colleagues: "In common cases, the children have a little fever or and rashes, and recover within a week. But here the parents are panicking. Everyone has sent their children to the hospital. It is important that people should understand that this disease is highly contagious and spreads very quickly."
Children more vulnerable
What makes this disease so dangerous this time is the fact that it comes in combination with the highly contagious enterovirus 71 also known as EV 71. If this intestinal virus is active, it can cause viral meningitis and other serious complications and can prove fatal. Doctors say the virus affects mostly infants and young children because their immune system is not so sound.
There is no vaccine or treatment for EV 71. It is spread by mucus, sneezing or by faeces. The Chinese Centre for Disease Control has now initiated an awareness campaign, as explained by Dr. Feng Zijian:”Hand-Foot-Mouth disease is preventable. The key to prevent it is maintaining hygiene. The most important thing is frequent hand-washing and disinfecting contaminated areas.”
‘No cause for panic’
The Chinese health authorities have been criticised for being slow in reporting the outbreak and not handling it properly or timely enough. The virus has now spread to other areas in eastern, central and southern China as well as to the capital Beijing. Experts say they expect to see more cases in summer, as the virus tends to multiply in warm weather. Concerns are also mounting as the outbreak has emerged in the run-up to the Olympics.
But the Chinese authorities have urged people not to create panic and assured that the disease will have no impact on the Summer Games. At the weekend, the Chinese Ministry of Health issued a nationwide health alert and ordered health care providers to boost up their surveillance system and report all cases of illness.