Ten doctors and officials in China have been punished for mishandling a virus that has killed 26 children, state media reported as the number of infected youngsters rose to nearly 12,000.
The punishments have been meted out in Anhui Province, where the bulk of the deaths have occurred and local officials have been accused of being too slow to report the disease, Xinhua news agency said late on Monday.
The virus is called enterovirus 71, or EV71, which leads to hand, foot and mouth disease.
EV71 is highly contagious and spreads through direct contact with the mucus, saliva or faeces of an infected person. Young children are most susceptible because of weaker immune systems.
As of Monday, it had infected 11,905 children nationwide, killing 26 of them, Xinhua reported, citing government figures.
The outbreak caused the Ministry of Health to declare a national alert over the weekend and establish a task force to liaise with local officials on control efforts.
In Anhui, one village doctor was fined 4,080 yuan (US$583) for illegally injecting 17 children with immune globulin, falsely claiming it would cure them, Xinhua reported.
The doctor, Wang Dongjun, charged 80 yuan for each injection, while five local county officials have been reprimanded for not distributing information about the virus.
Their failure to tell the people in Lichen Village about the nature of the virus allowed Wang to “profiteer” from the disease, Xinhua reported, without saying what happened to the mistreated patients.
A doctor in another village was punished for the same actions as Wang, Xinhua said, without disclosing what punishment he received.
Two doctors at a hospital in Fuyang City were given demerits for not treating a patient with the virus properly, Xinhua said, without elaborating on the punishments.
They reportedly simply gave the patient an intravenous drip without doing a proper examination.
Fuyang City is where 22 people have died from EV71.
Sections of China’s state-run media have been highly critical of how authorities in Fuyang handled the outbreak, because children first started falling ill in March but the problem was not made public until last week.
Fears of the outbreak have spread to Beijing, prompting the foreign ministry yesterday to seek to assure the country it was doing its best to contain the outbreak.
“The Chinese government is paying great attention to the virus and related departments are taking effective measures to stop it from spreading,” ministry spokesman Qin Gang (秦剛) told a news conference.
Parents in Beijing, host city of the 2008 Olympics that has not reported any deaths from EV71, were also on the alert.
“Of course we’re worried. If a child got sick, we’d be very frightened,” said one woman, bouncing a toddler on her hip. “We know about this virus, but we don’t know clearly how to protect ourselves. The information hasn’t been thorough enough.”