Enterovirus 71 in Chinese province kills 20 children

A virus in China has which has killed 20 children and made 1,179 others ill is causing alarm.

According to official sources the enterovirus 71, or EV71 began spreading in early March, in the city of Fuyang in the eastern province of Anhui.

The EV71 virus which can cause hand, foot and mouth disease, has appeared before in China but this outbreak was only publicly acknowledged by authorities on Sunday.

The children presented with fever, blisters and ulcers in the mouth, or rashes on the hands and feet resulting in brain, heart and lung damage to some of the victims.

A World Health Organisation (WHO) representative says the current high reported fatality rate compared to previous years is a concern and has recommended parents keep their children away from public places during the outbreak and make sure they frequently wash their hands.

The outbreak now appears to be taken seriously by officials as the Health Minister has visited Fuyang and the health department is reportedly training more medical workers in the prevention and cure of the virus.

Of the deaths the majority were children under the age of two - another 341 children remain in hospital, 27 of whom are in a critical condition; another 8 are not expected to survive.

Enteroviruses are bad news because there is no vaccine or antiviral agent available to treat or prevent the virus and they spread easily through contact with infected blisters or faeces, causing high fevers, paralysis and swelling of the brain or its lining.

Treatment relies on managing these complications, which can include meningitis and heart failure.

Previous outbreaks of EV71 have occurred in Southeast Asia and some East European countries.

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