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Singapore reports outbreak of deadly child virus

MOSCOW, May 7 (RIA Novosti) - Almost 1,500 children in Singapore have been infected this week by hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD), that has already killed a total of 28 children under six in China, the country's health ministry said on Wednesday.

Seventeen daycare centers in Singapore have been closed after a sharp rise was noted this week in the Southeast Asian country that has reported 10,490 infections this year a 75% rise compared to 2007 figures. Of the reported total the health ministry said 26% of those had gone on to contract the enterovirus 71.

HFMD is a common childhood illness, but can lead to fatal complications, such as meningitis and polio, when linked to the enterovirus 71 (EV71), although the death rate from the virus is still quite low.

Singapore's health ministry said that an additional 50 kindergartens and child-care centers would shut as a precautionary measure.

The high amount of deaths in China has led to fears that the virus has mutated, but a World Health Organization representative in China, Hans Troedsson, told journalists: "There is no indication of a change or a more virulent virus."

The disease has spread rapidly in China with around 16,000 infections since March, when young children, between six and two years, started being admitted to hospitals in the central Chinese province of Anhui, where 22 children have died in the region.

Three children also died in the southern province of Guangdong, and one in Zhejiang, in the east. The latest deaths in China were recorded in the central province of Hunan and southwest Guangxi Zhuang bringing the toll to 28.

Although there have been infections recorded in Beijing, nearly 1,500 cases have been reported with around 2,000 children hospitalized in the financial center of Shanghai, however none are thought to be in danger.

China's health authorities have implemented a number of measures to help control the disease and raise public awareness, which the WHO praised at a press conference on Wednesday.

Troedsson said that the authorities had strengthened "public health education and public health messages, so that people know how to protect themselves, prevent the disease and how to recognize the disease."

Cases of hand, foot and mouth infection have significantly increased in the last decade in Southeast Asian countries, such as China, Vietnam, Taiwan and Singapore.

The disease is expected to reach its peak in June and July, shortly before the Beijing Olympics starts in August.

Russia's health ministry has tightened health checks of people arriving in the country from China. Earlier this week, Chinese authorities pledged to notify Moscow if there was any danger of the virus spreading to Russia.

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