By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
China orders heightened efforts to stop deadly virus
China Child Virus X 5708389
In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, medical workers take a medical examination for a young patient at No.2 People's Hospital of Fuyang City in east China's Anhui Province Thursday, May 1, 2008. Chinese health authorities have reported an additional 593 children infected with an intestinal virus that killed 20 in an eastern city, a state news agency said Friday. - photo by Associated Press
    BEIJING — China’s Health Ministry ordered heightened efforts to stem the spread of infectious diseases Saturday following an outbreak of a virus that has caused the deaths of 22 children in one city and is spreading.
    The outbreak of enterovirus 71, a type of hand, foot and mouth disease that children are susceptible to, is another headache for the communist government as it prepares for the Beijing Olympics already tarnished by an uprising among Tibetans 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 ... preserve social stability,’’ said the order posted on the ministry’s Web site.
    Prompting the government to act was an unusual jump in cases of the enterovirus, known as EV-71, in Fuyang, a fast-growing city set in the rural heartland of central China.
    As of early Saturday, 3,736 cases of EV-71 were reported in Fuyang’s mainly rural outskirts, a rise of 415 in about 24 hours, health officials said. Besides the 22 deaths, 1,115 people remain hospitalized, 42 of them in serious or critical condition, said the health department of Anhui Province, where Fuyang is located.
    State-run television footage showed workers spraying disinfectant around houses in rural areas outside Fuyang and medical teams visiting families with small children.
    Meanwhile, nearly 800 other cases were reported in other parts of Anhui, the health department said on its Web site. In Guangdong province, 1,000 miles to the south, preliminary tests showed an 18-month-old boy who died Friday was infected with EV-71, and a second suspected death is under investigation, the Xinhua News Agency said.
    Cases of hand, foot and mouth outbreaks, but not necessarily EV-71, have been reported in at least two other provinces, Xinhua said.
    The Health Ministry said it expected infections to climb, and peak in June and July. While the order singled out hand, foot and mouth disease for particular concern, it also mentioned hepatitis A, measles and other infectious diseases.
    Hand, foot and mouth disease causes fever, mouth sores and rashes with blisters. Spread by contact with the stool or discharge from the sneezing or coughing of infected people, the viruses mainly strike children 10 years and younger. Some cases can lead to fatal brain swelling. The illness is not related to the foot and mouth disease that hits livestock.
    There is no vaccine or specific therapy to treat the disease. Health experts recommend improved hygiene, with more frequent hand-washing and disinfecting areas.
    The large number of cases spreading across a large area brings up parallels with the communist government’s handling of previous infectious outbreaks, especially that of SARS pneumonia in 2003. Government attempts to conceal the emergence of SARS, a new disease at the time, contributed to its spread beyond Guangdong in 2003, ultimately causing 774 deaths worldwide and forcing Beijing to apologize to the world.
    When avian influenza started killing birds and sickening some people in East and Southeast Asia, Beijing was criticized for not sharing information on outbreaks and virus samples with international health authorities.
    People in Fuyang also complained that the government’s response to EV-71 was slow, allowing rumors to spread. The first word many people had about the outbreak were signs posted at hospitals on preventing hand, foot and mouth disease, the China Youth Daily reported.
    The World Health Organization said Thursday that while cases in Fuyang cropped up in early March, they increased sharply starting April 19.
    The WHO credited a rapid response from the government for steeply decreasing the rate of fatalities in the second half of April — to 0.2 percent of cases from 11 percent March 10-31. The ministry sent expert teams to Anhui to lead treatment of the disease and prevent its spread.
    Outbreaks of viruses are frequent across rural China, where hygiene is often poor and people and animals live near each other.
    In SARS’ wake, the government invested heavily in disease-monitoring and ordered emergency response plans for outbreaks and other crises. Several notices issued by the Health Ministry on Friday and Saturday geared up those networks, calling for timely reporting of cases and the prompt examination of samples from patients with unidentified viruses.
    Pointedly, the ministry vowed to punish officials, health workers or agencies that tried to cover up outbreaks or delayed reporting them.

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter