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Virus fears grow with thousands of children sick in China

The World Today - Thursday, 8 May , 2008 12:31:00

Reporter: Stephen McDonell

ELEANOR HALL: Now to the risks for children in China, where the World Health Organisation has
sought to calm fears about the outbreak of a disease which has killed nearly 30 children and made
nearly 16,000 others sick.

Almost all the victims of the Enterovirus have been under five years old and most lived in the same
area.

The World Health Organisation is now warning that there could be tens of thousands more cases that
haven't yet been reported.

China Correspondent Stephen McDonell has our report.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: The outbreak of a deadly virus in south-eastern China's Fuyang City has caused a
national health alert.

In that one city 22 children, mostly under five years old, have died. Thousands more are sick and
the cases appear to spreading around the country.

As far away as Beijing, kindergartens have been closed to prevent the spread of the disease and
parents are being asked to watch out for sickness with high fever, sores around the mouth and a
rash with blisters.

Most of the victims first caught Enterovirus 71 which became hand, foot and mouth disease.

Many Chinese people have blamed the slow reaction of local authorities for the outbreak, but
according to the World Health Organisation, the response has been quick, once doctors knew what
they were dealing with.

Dr Hans Troedsson is the organisation's representative in China. He said Chinese health officials
are now bringing the crisis under control.

HANS TROEDSSON: This disease, you don't have any treatment, you don't have any vaccine. So the way
to do it are two things. You need to have people to understand how to prevent transmission. The
other thing is that when a child is sick, they understand that they should not send their children
to school or kindergarten, because it's easily transmitted at those places.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Can I ask you, do we know in total how many people have died in the last month in
China altogether from this disease?

HANS TROEDSSON: What we have reported so far is 26 since the start of the outbreak in March.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: And why do you think in this one city there's such a severe outbreak?

HANS TROEDSSON: That's something we have to look into. That needs to be investigated much more,
because as I said, usually you will see a few severe cases, and occasionally fatalities. You
usually don't see a cluster like this of 22 cases.

What we wanted to rule out first of all was that it was no change in the virus so that was not a
more virulent subtype, and all the analysis so far has ruled out that.

REPORTER: So right now should we just be calm and just say that this is something that has happened
every year and that this could be a blip...

HANS TROEDSSON: I think we need to put it in the right perspective. I mean, this is something that
regularly happens in the countries in this region.

I mean, first of all it's a worldwide disease. You have it also in Europe and North America and
Latin America, all over the world. There are larger outbreaks here frequently every year,
particularly during the warmer period.

The only thing that was a bit unusual here this time was that it was bit difficult to diagnose the
first case... the first severe cases and that we had some severe cases with an atypical picture.

REPORTER: So parents around the region should stay calm? We're not looking at some strange new
epidemic that's going to spread and kill more kids?

HANS TROEDSSON: Absolutely not. I mean, this is not a new virus. It is a virus we know. It is no
indication that it has changed. What we should expect is to see many more cases now coming up, for
several reasons.

One thing is that we could be still in an early phase of the outbreak, and as I said, there could
be ten thousands of cases, and in Taiwan, 1998, it was over 100,000 cases. In Shandong last year it
was 40,000 cases.

But the other thing is also since the Minister of Health has made this as a notifiable disease, you
will have both parents taking the children to healthcare providers much more, as well as the
healthcare providers will report many more cases.

So in increasing cases now in the coming weeks, it wouldn't be a surprise or wouldn't be alarming
in itself.

ELEANOR HALL: That's the World Health Organisation's Dr Hans Troedsson, speaking to reporters in
Beijing last night, including the ABC's China Correspondent Stephen McDonell.