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. Contagious disease kills 18 children in China: official

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) March 27, 2009
Highly infectious hand, foot and mouth disease has killed 18 children and infected nearly 42,000 in China this year, with the peak period still to come, a government official said Friday.

"Currently the situation in our country on controlling the hand, foot and mouth disease is rather serious," health ministry spokesman Deng Haihua told journalists.

"The epidemic is in a stage of increasing... and we expect the peak period will come between May and June."

Deng was speaking at a press briefing held by the Ministry of Health in an effort to address widespread concerns over the spread of the disease also known as enterovirus.

Deng said that 94 percent of the people suffering from the disease were under three years of age.

One fifth of the cases so far this year were in Shandong province in the east and Henan province in the centre of China, both areas where recent deaths have been reported.

The disease, which is common in China, took an unusually high toll in 2008, infecting nearly 500,000 people and killing 128 in the first 11 months of the year, according health ministry reports.

By comparison, 17 deaths were reported in 2007.

Symptoms of the highly contagious disease include fever and sores. It can be fatal in children due to their less-developed immune systems.

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