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Virus kills 25 in China, WHO says no cover-up

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) May 5, 2008
The World Health Organisation on Sunday dismissed claims that local authorities in China had covered up the outbreak of an intestinal virus, as the death toll rose to 25.

The virus, known as Enterovirus 71 or EV71, has already killed 22 children in the eastern province of Anhui and three others in southern Guangdong province, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported late Sunday.

A total of 622 new cases were recorded in Anhui on Saturday alone, Xinhua quoted provincial health authorities as saying, raising the number of children infected there to more than 5,150.

Dozens of other EV71 cases have been confirmed in at least four other Chinese provinces, while hundreds of children with symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease were being tested for the virus, the report said.

EV71, which can cause hand, foot and mouth disease, is highly contagious and spread through direct contact with the mucus, saliva or faeces of an infected person. Young children are most susceptible because of lower immune systems.

But the WHO's China representative, Hans Troedsson, dismissed claims by Chinese media that local authorities in Anhui had tried to cover up the initial stages of the outbreak.

"The reason why there was a delay in the reporting at the provincial level was that they didn't know what the causes for these different cases were," he said.

The disease -- which begins with fever, blisters, mouth ulcers and rashes -- has spread in Anhui since early March, but the first reports about the epidemic only surfaced last week on Xinhua.

This led to accusations by Chinese press of a cover-up by local authorities -- claims the authorities deny.

Troedsson said the symptoms typically associated with hand, foot and mouth disease, caused by EV71, were absent -- explaining the slow official reaction to the epidemic.

"Those severe cases did not have the typical symptoms of the disease. They didn't have blisters and rashes on the hands, feet and buttocks," he said.

The WHO expert said it was unclear whether the outbreak of the disease, which has been seen before in China and other countries, had already peaked, or if the worst was yet to come.

"The concern would be if we saw a continuous peak of the disease. At the same time, where I am cautiously positive is that we now know what is causing this outbreak, and that the government has taken action," he said.

He said China's disease surveillance system had improved over the last few years, but still needed to be strengthened.

"Where there still maybe needs some work to be done is to strengthen the reporting from the provinces up to the national level," Troedsson said.

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China Warns Deadly Intestinal Virus Could Kill More
Beijing (AFP) April 30, 2008
The Chinese government on Wednesday warned that a lethal intestinal virus that killed 20 children in east China could cause more deaths.

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