Page last updated at 15:06 GMT, Wednesday, 30 April 2008 16:06 UK

Chinese virus infections rising

A mother cares for her sick baby in a hospital in Anhui province
Chinese press say the authorities tried to cover up the outbreak

The number of children infected with a deadly virus in eastern China has increased by nearly 700 in the past two days.

The virus, Enterovirus 71, has killed 20 children since it was discovered in Fuyang, a city in Anhui province.

State media said the number of cases had now increased to nearly 1,900.

The outbreak began in early March, but was only reported this week - leading to accusations by Chinese press of a cover-up by local authorities.

Fever and ulcers

The number of infected children has steadily increased since hospitals in Fuyang began admitting patients with fever, ulcers in the mouth, or a rash on their hands and feet, according to the Anhui Health Bureau's website.

An official investigation into the cause of the outbreak has been launched, and a prevention and control team has been set up to contain infected areas in the province, the bureau said.

The illness - known as EV71 - mainly affects children under the age of 10.

The World Health Organization said it was concerned about the number of deaths in the current outbreak, although EV71 has been reported in China before.

The question of reporting infectious diseases is especially sensitive in China, following widespread criticism of the handling of the Sars epidemic in 2003.

Attempts to cover up the scale of that outbreak led to the sacking of China's health minister and promises of reform.

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