The death toll from a viral illness that is striking children across China has risen by two to 30, health officials said Thursday, as the number of reported cases jumped to nearly 20,000.

The latest deaths from hand, foot and mouth disease occurred on the island province of Hainan in China's south, where 180 cases have been reported, Hainan's health bureau said on its Web site.

It said the two children tested positive for enterovirus 71, a virus that can cause a severe form of the disease, a common childhood ailment that typically causes little more than a fever and rash.

Xinhua said late Wednesday that the number of reported cases of hand, foot and mouth has jumped to 19,962, A day earlier, the number of infections was 15,799, cropping up in areas ranging from Guangdong province in the south to Jilin province in the northeast and Anhui province in the country's heartland.

Health experts have said they expect the number of cases to rise as a result of an order issued this week by the Ministry of Health requiring health care providers to report infections within 24 hours.

Last year, 80,000 hand, foot and mouth cases were recorded in China with 17 deaths, the health ministry has said. Spokesman Mao Qun'an said the figures were probably incomplete because reporting wasn't mandatory then.

Hand, foot and mouth disease spreads through contact with saliva, feces, fluid secreted from blisters or mucus from the nose and throat. There is no vaccine or specific treatment, but most children affected by the disease typically recover quickly without problems.

It is unrelated to the foot and mouth disease that affects livestock.