BEIJING, March 24 (Reuters) - Chinese state media accused a local government on Tuesday of covering up the number of children suffering from hand, foot and mouth disease and the number of deaths.
The government of Minquan county in central Henan province said only one child was killed by the virus, but there may be at least 10 more deaths cases in the region, the official China National Radio said on its website (www.cnr.cn).
"(The death toll) should be no less than double figures," the report said, citing anonymous hospital sources. Double figures in Chinese means more than 10.
Hand, foot and mouth is a common childhood illness and rarely fatal, but it can cause fever, mouth sores and rashes with blisters.
There were possibly more than 2,000 children who had been infected by the disease, contradicting the official number of 277, since January, the report added, citing two doctors in Minquan People’s Hospital.
Several officials had been punished for "failing to act" to contain the disease, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Calls to the Henan Health Bureau and Minquan local government went unanswered.
Xinhua said two toddlers died from hand, foot and mouth disease in neighbouring Shandong province. There were more than 502 cases in the city, a "high increase" from the same period last year, it said.
Earlier this year, a 17-month-old boy died of the disease in Lixin county in neighbouring Anhui province.
More than 40 Chinese children died in the spring of 2008 and thousands were infected when the illness was linked with enterovirus 71, which can cause a severe form of the disease characterised by high fever, paralysis and meningitis.
An outbreak in Fuyang, also in Anhui, was not made public until late April last year, provoking calls for officials to be sacked and triggering memories of the deadly SARS epidemic in 2003 that was also initially covered up. (Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Nick Macfie)