Sunday, May 4, 2008

Virus kills 25 in China, WHO says no cover-up

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has dismissed claims that local authorities in China had covered up the outbreak of an intestinal virus, as the death toll rose to 25.

The virus, known as Enterovirus 71 or EV71, has already killed 22 children in the eastern province of Anhui and three others in southern Guangdong province, said the state-run Xinhua news agency.

A total of 622 new cases were recorded in Anhui on Saturday alone, Xinhua quoted provincial health authorities as saying, raising the number of children infected there to more than 5,150.

Dozens of other EV71 cases have been confirmed in at least four other Chinese provinces, while hundreds of children with symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease were being tested for the virus, said the report.

EV71, which can cause hand, foot and mouth disease, is highly contagious and spread through direct contact with the mucus, saliva or faeces of an infected person. Young children are most susceptible because of lower immune systems.

WHO's China representative, Hans Troedsson, dismissed claims by Chinese media that local authorities in Anhui had tried to cover-up the initial stages of the outbreak.

"The reason why there was a delay in the reporting at the provincial level was that they didn't know what the causes for these different cases were," he said.

The disease, which begins with fever, blisters, mouth ulcers and rashes, has spread in Anhui since early March, but the first reports about the epidemic only surfaced last week on Xinhua.

This led to accusations by Chinese press of a cover-up by local authorities, claims the authorities deny.


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