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China urges authorities to step up education of deadly disease

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) May 7, 2008
China on Wednesday urged local health authorities to step up public education of a highly contagious disease that has led to the deaths of 28 children.

Despite the numbers of infections surging by thousands more, the Health Ministry and the World Health Organisation insisted there was little cause for alarm, saying the disease would have no impact on the Beijing Olympics.

Hand, foot and mouth disease claimed its latest victims on Tuesday, when a two-year-old and a three-year-old died, state-controlled Xinhua news agency said.

"While preventing and treating the disease the health authorities should make efforts to strengthen public health education," Mao Qun'an, spokesman for the Ministry of Health, said at a joint press conference with the WHO.

Concern has been mounting around China that the number of cases of hand, foot and mouth disease, which is spread through direct contact with mucus, saliva or faeces of an infected person, are rising at an alarming rate.

The number of infections has risen to 16,778 around the country, Xinhua reported, up from an initial 800 when it first came to light in eastern Anhui province at the end of April.

"The country is gearing up for a nationwide war against a mass outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease with the number of cases this year continuing to surge," the state-run China Daily newspaper said.

But both China and the WHO sought to calm fears about the epidemic, saying there was little cause for concern.

"We are confident that with our measures, we can control the outbreak," Mao said, adding, "We are confident that the potential outbreak will not affect the Beijing Olympic Games."

Dr Hans Troedsson, the WHO's China representative, said people should expect "to see many more cases coming up."

"This is not a new virus, it is a virus we know, and there is no indication that it has changed so there is no need to worry," Troedsson said.

The disease is common and normally benign, but can sometimes lead to complications in small children, and even death.

Last year, China recorded more than 80,000 cases, with 17 deaths.

The Chinese government declared a national alert on the weekend over the virus, which has been identified throughout eastern, central and southern China as well as Olympic host city Beijing.

Beijing has also set up a high-level task force headed by Health Minister Chen Zhu to coordinate nationwide control efforts.

Mao said Wednesday that all effective measures had been put in place, including the inclusion of the disease in the so-called category C notifiable disease.

This means that every case must now be reported to the Ministry of Health within 24 hours.

The virus first emerged in large numbers in eastern China in early March, but was not made public until last week, prompting state press to accuse local officials of being too slow in reporting the outbreak.

Anhui province has been the hardest hit, with 22 deaths occurring in Fuyang city.

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Doctors punished in China for mishandling deadly virus outbreak: Xinhua
Beijing (AFP) May 6, 2008
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 more than 12,000.

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