Page last updated at 22:02 GMT, Friday, 2 May 2008 23:02 UK

Virus in China kills 22 children

Children wait for treatment at hospital in China

Twenty-two young children in China have died after becoming infected by the Enterovirus 71 (EV71) intestinal virus, according to health officials.

Almost 3,000 children in the east of the country have now been infected by the deadly virus, state-run media say.

Officials said more than 300 new cases had been registered in 24 hours. In extreme cases, the virus can cause brain, heart and lung damage.

The outbreak emerged in Fuyang city in March, but was only reported this week.

The delay has led to accusations of a cover-up by local authorities.

The Chinese health ministry has rejected charges that it has failed to handle the situation properly, arguing that there had been hard work, both locally and nationally, to confirm the cause of illness and to manage treatment.

Fever and ulcers

The number of children infected with EV71 - which is highly contagious - has risen sharply since the outbreak was disclosed on Sunday.

Most of the victims have been children under the age of six.

Almost 900 children were currently receiving hospital treatment, nine of whom were in a critical condition, Xinhua said.

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, local health officials said.

Earlier, 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 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic in 2003.

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