Child virus outbreak reaches Beijing

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Over 40 children have died in an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) in China, and the country's capital of Beijing reported its first death due to the disease on Wednesday. According to Xinhua News Agency, Beijing Health Bureau spokeswoman Deng Xiaohong said that the 13-month-old boy died Sunday while en route to the hospital. Health authorities state that 24,934 children in mainland China are afflicted with the disease, and 42 children have died from it. The cause of the disease has been identified as Enterovirus 71 (EV-71). HFMD can also be caused by Coxsackievirus.

Lesions caused by the hand, foot and mouth virus on an 11-month old male.
Image: Dr. David Midgley.

Another child infected with the virus died Monday, but as he died in Hebei province his death was counted there. Xinhua News Agency also reported that a 21-month-old boy died Monday of the virus in Hubei province. After an order was given last week by the Ministry of Health of the People's Republic of China that all cases must be reported, the count of those infected has increased markedly.

Eastern China saw a large number of cases in early March, but this information was not made public until late April. In March, Children under age six in eastern Anhui province began being admitted to hospitals with symptoms of the virus, and the outbreak spread quickly after that. The city of Fuyang in Anhui province was especially hard-hit by the outbreak. "The majority of patients who were in critical condition have recovered," said a Health Ministry official in a statement on Monday. As of Monday, 3,606 HFMD infections had been reported in Beijing. Deaths have occurred in the provinces of Anhui, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan, Hunan, Zhejiang, Beijing and Hubei.

What I know is the death rate has gone down drastically since early May.

World Health Organization China representative Hans Troedsson

"What I know is the death rate has gone down drastically since early May. There are very, very few cases with complications — 99 percent of these are mild cases," said World Health Organization (WHO) China representative Hans Troedsson in a statement on Wednesday. Incidents of the disease are expected to peak in June and July.

Children with mild cases of the disease generally recover rapidly after manifesting a rash and a fever. Other symptoms include diarrhea, cold-like symptoms, and sores on the extremities and mouth. In severe cases, fluid may accumulate in the brain, and result in meningitis, encephalitis, pulmonary edema, paralysis and death. The EV-71 virus is spread through contact with fluid secreted from blisters, nose and throat mucus, feces and saliva. There is no specific treatment or vaccine for the virus. The disease is unrelated to foot-and-mouth disease, which affects livestock.

China is confident that it can control the spread of the disease with effective prevention methods.

Ministry of Health spokesman Mao Qunan

United States Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt was visiting in the country, and said in a statement Monday in Shanghai that the U.S. is assisting China fight the outbreak. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, symptomatic treatment can be given to address possible fever and aches and pains. The CDC advises children and adults to practice proper hand washing technique, and to wash and disinfect contaminated items and surfaces using diluted solution of chlorine-containing bleach.

China is also dealing with a magnitude-7.9 earthquake which hit the country Monday and has killed almost 15,000. The outbreak is a concern to the government, as the country prepares for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing this August. "We are confident the potential outbreak will not affect the Beijing Olympic Games," China's Health Ministry spokesman Mao Qunan stated. And at a joint press conference held by China's Ministry of Health and the WHO, he further noted that, "China is confident that it can control the spread of the disease with effective prevention methods."


  Learn more about Hand, foot and mouth disease and Enterovirus 71 on Wikipedia.