China Child Virus Spreads: 15,000 Sickened, 28 Dead

New outbreaks in China reported Wednesday put the number of children infected with hand, foot and mouth disease above 15,000 and the death toll has risen to at least 28 across the country.

A 2-year-old girl in the southern province of Hunan died of the disease after being in a coma, the provincial health bureau said on its Web site.

Another death was reported in the neighboring Guangxi region, Guangxi health officials said but did not give any details. The official Xinhua News Agency said the victim was a 3-year-old boy who died May 3.

Two kindergartens in Beijing were temporarily shut down Tuesday after children there showed symptoms of the disease, Xinhua said. There have been 1,482 cases in Beijing, most in kindergartens, it said.

So far, 15,799 outbreaks of the disease have been reported throughout the country this year, Xinhua said.

At least 28 children in China so far have died from the disease. Most of the deaths have been blamed on enterovirus 71, one of several viruses that cause the disease, Xinhua said. EV-71 can result in a more serious form of hand, foot and mouth that can lead to paralysis, brain swelling or death.

Although nearly all the deaths have been blamed on the virus known as EV-71, it was not immediately clear how many of the overall infections were traced to it. Xinhua said in Yunnan only nine of the 113 cases were caused by EV-71.

The hardest-hit areas include the provinces of Anhui, Guangdong, Zhejiang, and the capital Beijing. There have been smaller outbreaks in Hebei, Jiangsu, Hunan, Hubei, Shaanxi, Jiangxi and Henan provinces and in the city of Chongqing.

Xinhua said the jump in cases was due in part to a new regulation from the Ministry of Health classifying hand, foot and mouth disease among those that have to be reported to the central government.

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.

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There is no vaccine or specific treatment, but most children affected by mild forms of the disease typically recover quickly without problems.

Vietnam has recorded some 2,000 cases of hand, foot and mouth disease in the first four months of this year, said Nguyen Huy Nga, director of the Ministry of Health's Department of Preventive Medicine. Between 10 and 20 percent were caused by EV71.

Ten fatalities caused by the virus have been reported in the first four months, he said.

The number of cases represents an increase of 40 percent against the same period of last year, he said.