Page last updated at 10:22 GMT, Monday, 5 May 2008 11:22 UK

China virus toll continues rise

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The toll from an intestinal virus that has affected thousands of children in central China is continuing to rise, as officials work to rein in the outbreak.

A child died in Zhejiang province, bringing the number of deaths from Enterovirus 71 to 26.

According to state media, more than 8,500 cases have now been reported, with 5,000 of these in Anhui province.

EV71 is highly contagious, causing fever, blisters in the mouth and a rash on the hands and feet.

In extreme cases, it can cause brain, heart and lung damage.

On Saturday, Chinese health officials issued a nationwide health alert in an effort to control the outbreak, ordering health authorities to report all cases of the virus within 24 hours.

Sensitive issue

The outbreak emerged in Fuyang city in March, but was only reported in mid-April.

More than 600 new cases were reported in Anhui province on Sunday, Xinhua news agency said, raising the number of recorded cases there to 5,151.

Twenty-two children have died in the province and three deaths have also been reported in Guangdong province.

The delay in reporting the outbreak has led to accusations of a cover-up by local authorities.

The question of reporting infectious diseases is sensitive in China, following widespread criticism of the handling of the Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic in 2003.

But on Sunday the World Health Organization's representative in Beijing, Hans Troedsson, defended the authorities.

"The reason why there was a delay in the reporting at the provincial level was that they didn't know what the causes for these different cases were," he said.

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