REUTERS, Beijing – A prominent Chinese doctor said China’s deadly hand, foot and mouth outbreak will not become another epidemic on the scale of the SARS virus, even as the numbers of reported cases mounted on Wednesday.
Hand, foot and mouth is a common childhood illness, but the current outbreak has led to some 27 fatalities, mostly when linked with enterovirus 71 (EV71), which can cause a severe form of the disease, characterized by high fever, paralysis and meningitis.
“The situation is completely different from SARS,” Zhong Nanshan, a Chinese expert on respiratory diseases, said in an article posted on the government Web site of southern Guangdong province, where SARS was discovered in 2002.
“At present, the disease has already been diagnosed and there is proper prevention, so it will not evolve into a SARS-like epidemic.” Xinhua put the number of cases of hand, foot and mouth at 15,799, up from about 12,000 cases reported on Tuesday, though it was not clear whether the jump was due to the disease’s spread or more thorough reporting.
China initially covered up the SARS outbreak in 2003, a scandal which led to the sacking of the health minister and Beijing’s mayor. A two-year-old girl in the central province of Hunan has become the latest to die of the EV71 strain, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
It was the first reported death in that area. The outbreak has centered on Fuyang, in the poor, eastern province of Anhui, but Xinhua said the city had seen no fatalities for the past five days, suggesting the situation there was stabilizing.
The China Daily has blamed the hand, foot and mouth crisis on a “delayed reaction” by Fuyang authorities, and on Wednesday it reported that the Anhui government had punished 10 doctors for malpractice relating to the outbreak.
In one of the cases, two doctors were given demerits for delaying the transfer of a patient to a larger, county hospital after he was found to be suffering a high fever.
In another, a doctor was fined for giving 17 children an injection he claimed could prevent EV71. There are no vaccines or antiviral agents available to prevent the virus. Health officials have cautioned that the outbreak has yet to peak, saying its high season is usually June and July.
In Beijing, host city of the August Olympics, two kindergartens were temporarily closed after children showed symptoms of hand, foot and mouth, but the Beijing News reported that laboratory tests had not yet confirmed whether it was the EV71 strain.
At least one international school in Beijing has also sent out a notice regarding the outbreak, warning parents to watch for signs of tiredness, fever and blisters and saying that in line with usual practice those with fever should be kept at home.