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Thursday, June 4, 1998 Published at 19:31 GMT 20:31 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Task force tackles killer bug

The task force was launched in Taipei

Authorities in Taiwan have set up a task force to stop the spread of a disease which has killed 28 children.

At least 7,500 others have also been infected by Enterovirus 71, and 100 of them needed intensive care.

The airborne virus is spread by physical contact and breaks down the patient's immune system.

Infants and toddlers are left susceptible to secondary illnesses such as encephalitis, meningitis, and acute inflammation of the heart muscle.

Doctors fear that that at least 100,000 other cases may not have been reported because the child patient suffered only minor symptoms.

"Authorities caught off-guard"

A health department spokesman said the task force will monitor the epidemic and attempt to prevent it spreading.

A health official said the scale of the outbreak had caught health authorities off-guard.

Central Taiwan, where the virus is thought to be thriving in the hot, wet climate, has been the worst-hit area.

The virus has not been seen in Taiwan for 15 years and most children have no immunity whatsoever.

Parents have been advised not to take young children out in public, and to be sure that children change clothes and wash their hands frequently.

Early symptoms are similar to the flu, including fever, headache and vomiting.

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