A virus that has claimed the lives of 20 children and infected more than 1,800 others in Fuyang, Anhui Province will "probably continue spreading" in the coming months, a health official said on Wednesday.
No new fatalities from the intestinal virus Enterovirus 71 have occurred in the past five days, but the number of children affected has increased to 1,884, Chen Xianyi, an official from the Ministry of Health in charge of emergency response, said at a news conference.
"The disease will probably continue spreading in the next two or three months as it is a prime period for epidemics," he said.
Enterovirus 71, or EV71, usually starts with a slight fever followed by blisters and ulcers in the mouth and on the hands and feet.
It can cause high fever, meningitis, encephalitis, pulmonary edema and paralysis in children. Paralysis is more common in children under 2 and meningitis is more common in children aged 2 to 5.
It can be fatal if not treated in time.
Experts are being brought together to discuss putting the highly contagious disease on the mandatory reporting list of infectious diseases, Chen said.
About 540 hospitalized children affected by the outbreak in Fuyang are in stable condition and recovering well, the Anhui provincial health bureau said.
All the registered patients in the Fuyang outbreak are children aged 1 to 11, with 80 percent of them under 3 and most fatal cases being children under 2, Yang Weizhong, deputy chief of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said.
"This disease is not comparable with SARS; Now we have strengthened treatment measures, there's no need for people to panic, as the disease is curable so long as the patients are treated in time, before the exhaustion of the central circulatory system," Yang said.
Amid reports that the virus had spread from Fuyang to adjacent Henan Province, the Henan public health bureau said on Tuesday that 16 cases of the EV71 infections in the province were detected and treated successfully.
"So far, there is no evidence to show that the cases in Henan are infections from Fuyang," Yang said.
The health ministry has also denied claims that local authorities delayed reporting cases of the outbreak.
Medical teams were trying to work out what was afflicting the patients and it took time to collect evidence to confirm the disease, the ministry officials said.
Health authorities in Shanghai, which is near Anhui, said there are no reports of infections in the city.
(China Daily May 1, 2008)