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City reports year's first fatal case of HFMD

SHANGHAI health authorities yesterday reported this year's first local fatality from hand, foot and mouth disease: a two-year-old boy from Anhui Province who died in a city hospital on Thursday.

At least 50 deaths from the virus have occurred so far this year across China, and health officials are urging parents and schools to be on the alert for the disease as it appears the annual outbreak may have started earlier than usual.

The 29-month-old boy who died in Shanghai arrived in the city three months ago and started to develop symptoms, including a fever and rash, last Saturday.

He was taken to the Shanghai No. 5 People's Hospital on Monday and transferred immediately to Fudan University's Children's Hospital for higher-level treatment. The Shanghai Health Bureau said the patient died of severe complications from the disease, which can include swelling of lung, brain and heart tissues.

The boy, the son of migrant workers, was not identified.

The city has recorded 3,172 cases of hand, foot and mouth disease so far this year, including 25 patients who are now hospitalized. Most were in stable condition yesterday, except for one critical case, health officials said.

The bureau reported the city's first-ever HFMD death case last year on June 14, when a two-year-old Henan Province boy died at the Shanghai Public Health Center. The bureau did not say whether there were any other fatalities from the disease last year.

It did reveal that 10,340 cases of the HFMD occurred between January 1 and June 14 last year. By May 5, 2008, 1,988 cases had been reported.

Health officials said that although the figures indicate an increase of HFMD victims this year, the situation here is comparatively better than elsewhere in China. The apparent local increase could be due to better reporting, higher awareness and a rise in the city's migrant population.

"Hand, foot and mouth disease is preventable and controllable," said Song Guofan, a bureau official. "High awareness and good personal hygiene habits are critical for prevention and control."

Every morning, city kindergartens check students for the telltale rash that can signal the disease. The rash can be found on hands and feet, and ulcers are often present in the mouths of victims.

Spread by saliva, wound secretions and direct contact with infected persons or their belongings, the disease typically strikes infants and children up to age six, with those under three the highest risk group.

The virus usually starts to spread in the spring and peaks between May and July. While occasionally deadly, most cases are mild, with children recovering quickly.

The Ministry of Health has reported 115,618 cases of hand, foot and mouth disease since the start of the year.


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