Updated from a May 5 blog entry Chinese health-care officials are scrambling to contain the outbreak of a contagious and sometimes deadly intestinal virus--known as Enterovirus 71 (EV71)--that has already claimed the lives of at least 28 children and is likely to continue spreading. EV71 can cause hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD), a condition that may bring on fever, blisters in the mouth and a rash on the hands and feet. The most affected city is Fuyang where at least 3,736 cases of EV71 have been reported, according to the International Business Times . Those sickened by EV71 often show serious symptoms, the International Society for Infectious Diseases reports. It can also lead to meningitis, encephalitis, pulmonary edema, and paralysis in some children. There is no vaccine. So far there have been 15,799 cases of hand, foot and mouth disease this year, China's official Xinhua News Agency says, cropping up in areas ranging from the tropical island province of Hainan in the south to Jilin province in the northeast and Yunnan province in the southwest, according to the International Herald Tribune. In a May 4 AP story, a spokesman for the World Health Organization's regional Western Pacific office crystallized the cause for concern. "That's an extraordinarily high case fatality rate, and that's what caught our attention," said Peter Cordingley. "Otherwise, it would have passed under the radar." WHO issued a warning last week predicting that the outbreak will likely continue in China for the next few months because the virus tends to thrive in hot weather. It advised disinfection and frequent hand washing to prevent its spread, along with closing schools and daycare centers in hard-hit areas, according to the AP. Since HFMD first hit Fuyang in Anhui Province, more cases have been reported in at least five other provinces, including Zhejiang, Henan, Hubei, Jiangxi and Guangdong, reports Shanghaiist.com. In addition, 622 new cases of the intestinal were reported in Anhui on Saturday, bringing the total number of cases to 5,151. The worst may not be over, as China's Health Ministry expects infections to climb and peak in June and July, the International Business Times reports. Viet Nam and Singapore have both recently seen a sharp increase in cases, including ones linked to EV71. Health officials say there is no vaccine or specific therapy to cure the disease, but suggest taking care of one's hygiene by frequently washing hands and disinfecting areas. HFMD is not a new threat, and has been the subject of much research into ways of preventing such outbreaks. In a 2001 story, Scientific American reported that researchers from the Imperial College School of Medicine called for preemptive slaughtering of livestock to eradicate a problem affecting England, Ireland, France and the Netherlands at the time. HFMD is a common childhood illness that mainly affects children under 10, according to the China View Web site. It often begins with a sore throat and can be transmitted through nose and throat discharges. Infection can lead to high death rates in serious cases, and no vaccines are available. WHO says it does not believe the outbreak will threaten the Olympic games that begin in Beijing games on August 8. Scientific American Online will continue to keep its readers up to date with reporting from associate editor David Biello, who will be traveling to China for the next few weeks. Sciam.com also encourages its readers to share their thoughts on the impact of this outbreak and any new information that might turn up.
The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.