Chinese virus has struck 11,905 people

Hand-foot-mouth disease has struck 11,905 people and has proved fatal in 26 cases, all of them children, China's state-run news agency Xinhua reported Monday.

The official count has increased dramatically in recent days, the result of an order issued Friday by the Ministry of Health mandating that all cases be reported, said Tang Xiaoping, deputy head of the health bureau of Guangzhou, reported CNN.

Chinese health authorities have been dispatched to the worst-hit province, Anhui, in rural eastern China, where 22 of the fatalities have occurred, all of them blamed on enterovirus 71, or EV-71, one of the most common causes of HFMD.

The provincial health administration said all of the deaths in Anhui occurred in Fuyang City and that 1,314 of the 4,496 children infected in the city were hospitalized, Xinhua reported.

Of the total 5,840 child infections reported in the province, 689 were registered Sunday, it said.

The provincial government has quarantined people exposed to the virus and limited movement into and out of Fuyang, where the outbreak was first reported in mid-March.

Authorities there have also closed schools and sprayed streets with disinfectant. Extra beds have been crowded into hospital corridors to accommodate the influx of patients attributed to the disease.

Fuyang officials have been accused of sitting on information of the outbreak last month even as children were dying. But a World Health Organization official said weeks passed between the outbreak in mid-March and the first reports by local officials because they did not know what they were dealing with. Local officials say they are doing all they can.

Though the case fatality rate has dropped from 11 percent during March to 0.2 percent during April, according to the WHO, the numbers of people infected show no signs of decreasing.

Zheijiang Province in east China has reported 1,198 infections among children this year; a 5-year-old boy died last month.

It reported 101 cases in 2005, 793 cases in 2006 and 1,607 cases last year, Xinhua said.

Guangdong Province reported 1,692 cases, an increase of more than 700 percent over Sunday. Three of the cases proved fatal.

In southwestern Chongqing Municipality, 42 cases have been identified since Thursday, none of them fatal.

The capital city of Beijing has tallied 1,482 cases, 818 of them among kindergartners.

Another 206 cases were reported in nearby Hebei Province.

And outbreaks have been reported in the provinces of Jiangsu, Hunan, Hubei, Shaanxi, Jiangxi and Henan.

HFMD is not related to foot-and-mouth disease, which affects farm animals. HFMD can be caused by a number of intestinal viruses, of which EV-71 and Coxsackie A16 are among the most common.

"We have to do more prevention work and to inform the people about the virus so they can do more to keep away from it," said Chinese Vice Health Minister Liu Qian.

In mild cases, EV-71 causes cold-like symptoms, diarrhea, and sores on the hands, feet and mouth. Severe cases can cause fluid to accumulate on the brain, resulting in polio-like paralysis and death.

There is no treatment for severe EV-71 infections nor does a vaccine exist. Adults' well-developed immune systems usually can fend off the virus, but children are particularly vulnerable to it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Across China, schools are on heightened alert as teachers and parents are being told to re-emphasize the fundamentals of basic hygiene.

"The simple precautions -- washing their hands, not sharing food, making sure that after they've been to the bathroom they wash their hands again, those sorts of things," according to Anne Fowles of Beijing's BISS International School.

Public health officials expect the number of cases to peak in June or July, since the disease thrives in warm weather.

The virus is a concern for Chinese officials as the nation prepares to host the Summer Olympic Games starting August 8.

On Saturday, China's Ministry of Health issued a pamphlet urging health bureaus to step up prevention and control efforts, Xinhua reported.

A large outbreak of HFMD occurred in Taiwan in 1998 with 78 deaths, and smaller outbreaks recurred there in 2000 and 2001, according to the CDC.

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