Health News

First Beijing death linked to China virus outbreak

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s capital has recorded its first death from an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease as authorities try to contain the spread of a potent virus just three months before the city hosts the Olympic Games.

A doctor (R) examines a child for hand, foot and mouth disease infection at a hospital in Hefei, Anhui province May 11, 2008. REUTERS/Jianan Yu

Beijing Health Bureau spokeswoman Deng Xiaohong said a 13-month-old boy from the city’s northern Changping District died on the way to a hospital on Sunday. Hubei province to the south also confirmed the death of a toddler from hand foot and mouth, taking the nationwide toll to 42.

The spokeswoman said the child in Beijing had tested positive for enterovirus 71 (EV71), a virus that has caused the majority of the deaths in the latest outbreak, which started weeks ago in the eastern province of Anhui’s Fuyang city.

Deng also said another child had died of the disease in a Beijing hospital, but that case would be recorded in neighbouring Hebei province, where the child contracted the disease. No further details of that case were disclosed.

Hand, foot and mouth disease is a common childhood illness, with a number of causes, but the current outbreak has been linked to the EV71 virus, which can cause a severe form of the disease, characterised by high fever, paralysis and meningitis.

There is no vaccine or antiviral agent available to treat or prevent EV71. Enteroviruses spread mostly through contact with infected blisters or faeces.

More than 27,500 cases have been reported in China as of last Friday, Xinhua said earlier, with the number of new cases in Anhui province starting to decline. Other deaths have been reported in the Guangdong, Hainan and Guangxi regions.

Following the Anhui outbreak, China issued a nationwide alert, closing some kindergartens and sending officials to visit nurseries and primary schools to educate staff on hygiene and prevention.

At least two Beijing kindergartens were suspended last week after children showed symptoms of the disease, but a Health Ministry spokesman said then that the number of cases was not abnormal.

“We are confident the potential outbreak will not affect the Beijing Olympic Games,” Mao Qunan, the ministry spokesman, said last week.

Before the latest cases, Chinese media also quoted Hans Troedsson, the China representative for the World Health Organization (WHO), as saying he did not expect the disease to be a threat to the Olympics. He said the WHO was providing technical advice and support to China.

Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Writing by Ken Wills; Editing by Nick Macfie