China hails doctor for raising child virus alarm
BEIJING (Reuters) - A deadly strain of hand, foot and mouth disease has killed two more children in China, bringing the death toll in recent weeks to 32, state media said on Friday, as it praised a doctor who alerted authorities to the epidemic.
An eight-month-old girl and a boy aged one and a half, who both died in southern China, were the latest victims of an outbreak international experts have warned has yet to peak.
Hand, foot and mouth is a common childhood illness, but in the current outbreak, has been linked with enterovirus 71 (EV71) which can cause a severe form of the disease characterized by high fever, paralysis and meningitis.
The girl died early Monday morning in Guangdong province, which has registered four deaths from EV71, after emergency treatment failed, Xinhua said.
The boy, from the neighboring Guangxi region, started running a fever and coughing on Saturday but his parents didn't take him to hospital until Tuesday, when he fell into a coma. Doctors could not save him and he became Guangxi's second victim.
A cluster of EV71 cases in Fuyang in the central province of Anhui in March saw 22 deaths. Some 104 patients remain in critical condition across the province, official media has said.
The outbreak was not made public until late April, triggering memories of the deadly SARS epidemic that crippled China in 2003 and provoking calls for Fuyang officials to be sacked.
The World Health Organisation has said the delay was not because of any cover-up, but was due to problems local doctors faced trying to identify the illness.
China has since issued a nationwide alert, closing kindergartens and sending officials to visit nurseries and primary schools and educate staff on hygiene and prevention.
A U.S. health official offered to assist China in curbing the outbreak, and U.S. Health Secretary Michael Leavitt is to visit Beijing next week, Xinhua reported.
"We are willing to help China in any way possible with this issue," it quoted William Steiger, head of the Office of Global Health Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health, as saying.
State media Friday was filled with praise for a doctor who called in experts after she was baffled by the deaths of several children that colleagues insisted were just suffering severe colds or flu.
The official People's Daily carried a tribute with the headline "We salute you, Fuyang's Liu Xiaolin," comparing Liu to a doctor who helped lead the fight against the deadly SARS virus.
"We have no way to count how many children were treated and cured because of Liu Xiaolin's responsibility and steadfastness; there is also no way to calculate how many families avoided the epidemic because of her sharpness and courage," it said.
Liu had previously helped uncover a baby milk scandal, when fake formula made without key nutrients caused the death by malnutrition of several children.
(Reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison and Lindsay Beck; Editing by Nick Macfie)