The death toll from a highly infectious virus that preys on children rose to 24 yesterday as it spread to a new province amid heightened efforts by China’s Health Ministry to contain it.
The Xinhua news agency said an 18-month old boy who died in Foshan, Guangdong Province, on Friday had enterovirus 71, known as EV-71. Another child who died in the same district on April 25 also tested positive, it said.
The deaths follow 22 already reported in Anhui Province, 1,700km to the north.
The outbreak of enterovirus 71 — a type of hand, foot and mouth disease that children are susceptible to — is another headache for the government as it prepares for the Olympic Games, already tarnished by unrest among Tibetans in western China and an international torch relay disrupted by protests.
Stepped up vigilance by health bureaus and hospitals to prevent the spread of infectious diseases was necessary “to guarantee the smooth staging of the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics and to practically preserve social stability,” the ministry said in an order posted on its Web site yesterday.
What prompted the government to act was an unusual jump in cases of the enterovirus in Fuyang, a fast-growing city set amid the rural heartland of central China.
As of early Saturday, 3,736 cases of EV-71 were reported in Fuyang’s rural outskirts, a rise of 415 in about 24 hours, health officials said. Aside from the 22 deaths, 1,115 people remain hospitalized, 42 of them in a serious or critical condition, said the health department of Anhui Province.
The ministry sent expert teams to Anhui to coordinate treatment of the disease and prevent its spread. State-run TV showed workers spraying disinfectant around houses in rural areas outside Fuyang and medical teams visiting families with small children.
Meanwhile, about 800 other cases were reported elsewhere in Anhui, the health department said in a statement on its Web site.
Cases of hand, foot and mouth outbreaks, but not necessarily the EV-71 strain, have been reported in two other provinces, Xinhua said.
Hand, foot and mouth viruses cause fever, mouth sores and rashes with blisters and are easily spread by sneezing or coughing.
The viruses mainly strike children aged 10 and younger. Some cases can lead to fatal brain swelling. The illness is not related to the foot and mouth disease that afflicts livestock.