Nearly 1,200 children sickened, 20 dead from virus in eastern China

Beijing  - The number of children sickened by a severe form of hand, foot and mouth disease in an eastern Chinese city has risen to nearly 1,200 with 20 children dying from the virus, the official news agency Xinhua said Tuesday.

A total of 1,179 other children have become ill from enterovirus 71 since an outbreak began at the start of March in Fuyang in Anhui province, it said, citing the municipal government.

As of Sunday night, 341 children were in hospital with 27 in critical condition and eight terminally ill, the government said.

All the patients are under 6 and most are under 2.

The symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease are usually mild and include ulcers and blisters in the mouth, rashes on the hands and feet, and fever. The illness usually passes within a week without treatment, but a small minority of cases become life-threatening, mainly because of neurological complications - such as encephalitis, meningitis and paralysis - as well as lung haemorrhages.

The virus is highly infectious and transmitted through saliva, blister fluid and faeces. There is no vaccine.

Hand, foot and mouth disease is common among babies and children, but it is rare among adults, who usually have immune systems that are developed and strong enough to fight off the virus.

News of the outbreak was released as the number of cases were decreasing and after rumors had caused concern and panic among parents and the general population.

Singapore has been fighting a recent outbreak itself. As of last week, 8,400 cases, including some enterovirus 71 cases, had been reported there this year, at least 16 schools had been closed down and 10 more had been urged to voluntarily shut down for disinfection. (dpa)