A virus that has sickened close to 10,000 children in China is not a threat to the Olympians who will be heading to the country, the World Health Organization has said.
Although the outbreak is another headache for China's Communist government as it prepares to host this summer's Olympic Games, WHO's China representative, Hans Troedsson, said the disease was not a threat to the Beijing Olympics because the disease mostly sickens young children.
China reported a jump Monday in the number of children sickened with hand, foot and mouth disease, saying more than 9,700 cases have been reported.
At least 24 deaths in the central province of Anhui and Guangdong province in the south have been blamed on enterovirus 71, one of several viruses that cause the disease, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
Two other children — one in Guangdong and another in the coastal province of Zhejiang — have also died of hand, foot and mouth disease but it wasn't immediately clear which strain of virus killed them, it said.
Xinhua said 8,573 children had been reported infected in the provinces of Anhui, Guangdong, Hunan, Hubei, Sichuan and Jiangsu, as well as Beijing. All were below the age of 6 and the majority were under the age of 2, it said.
Most of the cases were blamed on enterovirus 71, also known as EV-71, but the report didn't give a breakdown of the numbers.
Zhejiang separately reported 1,198 cases of hand, foot and mouth disease. Nine had tested positive for enterovirus 71, the province's Health Bureau said on its Web site.
The ministry appealed for any sick children "to be sent immediately to health clinics" and for people to report cases to local health and education departments as soon as possible.
Xinhua said a majority of the cases were reported in Anhui province, with Fuyang, a fast-growing city, the worst hit with 5,151 infections.
Enterovirus causes a severe form of hand, foot and mouth disease with symptoms including fever, mouth sores and rashes with blisters. It is easily spread by sneezing or coughing. The viruses mainly strike children ages 10 and younger. Some cases can lead to fatal swelling of the brain.
The illness is not related to foot and mouth disease, which afflicts livestock.
There is no vaccine or specific treatment, but most children affected by mild forms of the disease typically recover quickly without problems.
The World Health Organization says the virus normally peaks in June and July so there could still be an increase in infections as the weather warms.
China's Health Ministry has sent teams to Anhui to coordinate treatment of the disease and prevent its spread.
— The Associated Press