* Henan and Shandong provinces hit by outbreak
* Official warns worse to come
* State radio accuses officials of cover-ups
BEIJING (Reuters) - Thirty-three children in two crowded rural provinces of China have died in an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease that could claim more victims as it spreads in summer heat, state media reported on Tuesday.
The disease, a common childhood illness, is rarely fatal but can cause fever, mouth sores and blisters. Severe forms of the virus can be deadly if not properly treated.
Eighteen children have died from the disease in central Henan province and at least 15 in eastern Shandong province this year, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Henan, a rural province crowded with poor farmers, is the center of China’s latest outbreak of the disease, which killed 40 children nationwide last year, spreading alarm among parents who accused officials of indifference and cover-ups.
The deaths in Henan were among nearly 20,000 cases of the disease confirmed in the province, including 5,965 in hospital, as of Monday, Xinhua said. A provincial official warned that worse may come.
“As the weather warms, cases of hand, foot and mouth disease in Henan may rise further,” a vice governor of Henan, Song Xuantao, told Xinhua. “The situation facing prevention and treatment is very grim.”
In late March, Minquan County in Henan said one child had died of the disease, but a report on state radio accused officials in the county of hiding the problem and the number of deaths.
Minquan has now confirmed that eight children have died from the disease, the Xinhua report said. They were among the 18 dead reported by Henan.
The report from Shandong said 11,500 children had been diagnosed with the disease and 7,100 had already recovered.
Earlier this year, a 17-month-old boy died of the disease in eastern Anhui province.
Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Farah Master