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Thu, Jun 01, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Enterovirus breaks out in seven counties

RED ALERT With three child deaths from the deadly virus already, health officials are warning parents to take extra precautions concerning their children's hygiene

By Chiu Yu-Tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Department of Health (DOH) yesterday said 11 townships across seven counties had been placed on red alert for enterovirus and that some 10 to 15 children could be expected to die from the illness this year.

Health officials said they were monitoring any developments regarding the virus and reminded parents not to ignore the potential danger.

"If there are three or more cases of the enterovirus in any classroom, students will be told to stay home for at least three weeks," said Tu Hsin-che (涂醒哲), director of the DOH's Bureau of Communicable Disease Control (疾病管制局).

Tu made the comments during a meeting of the Legislative Yuan's Sanitation, Environment, and Social Welfare Committee yesterday, where legislators echoed growing public concern over the news of three confirmed deaths so far this year from enterovirus infection.

Health officials said that enterovirus 71 (EV-71) infections had been found in eight townships in the counties of Chiayi, Changhua, Taoyuan, Taipei and Kaohsiung. Suspected cases were also reported in three other townships in Changhua, Taoyuan, and Taipei counties.

Health officials warned that vigilance must be maintained in areas placed on red alert, especially in the following weeks, and that the best prevention was good personal hygiene, including washing one's hands often and covering the mouth when coughing or sneezing.

In 1998, about 10,000 reported EV-71 infection cases were reported in Taiwan, causing 75 deaths and 400 serious illnesses. Symptoms of EV-71 infection include fever, rashes and ulcers in the mouth, and on the feet and hands. Health officials say there is no known vaccine for the virus, which has previously broken out in Malaysia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Japan.

Since children under five are most vulnerable to the disease, parents have been advised to be cautious of possible outbreaks in kindergartens.

In Kaohsiung County, where two children have died from the deadly virus, more than 30,000 children attending 406 different kindergartens were taught how to wash their hands thoroughly yesterday.

Teachers also suggested parents avoid taking children to public areas, in order to lower the possibility of getting infected.

The director-general of the DOH, Lee Ming-liang (李明亮), said yesterday at the Legislative Yuan that the department would be closely monitoring outbreaks and the public would be kept informed of the latest developments.

However, public health specialists in southern Taiwan told the Taipei Times yesterday that the outbreak had highlighted the poor coordination between local and central heath departments.

"When something like this happens, local health officials are always waiting for instructions from experts in Taipei, and this is not the most efficient way to handle the situation," said Chen Meei-shia (陳美霞), a public health professor at National Cheng Kung University.

Letting others know the importance of good hygiene in preventing the disease is difficult in southern Taiwan because of a lack of public health resources, Chen said.

"If more advanced public health research centers could be established in the south to train more professionals to provide information and counseling about the virus, the public would be better equipped to prevent these outbreaks," Chen said.

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