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Cover-up may have hidden disease deaths

A CENTRAL China county might have covered up the death toll from an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease, state radio reported yesterday.

A task force dispatched by the Ministry of Health has confirmed that a two-year-old patient in Henan Province's Minquan County died of the disease despite an earlier report by the county saying there had been no deaths associated with the virus.

And China National Radio said that at least 10 children who died recently in Minquan might have been suffering from the disease.

Two officials in Minquan have been sacked for mishandling reporting on the disease and might have been involved in a cover-up, China Central Television said on Monday. Yang Baojun, director of the Minquan County Health Bureau, and Wang Zaiji, head of the Minquan County People's Hospital, were fired.

The disease typically strikes infants and children, and while occasionally deadly, most cases are mild, with victims recovering quickly after suffering little more than a fever and rash.

Typical symptoms

Among the suspect cases reported by China National Radio, five-month-old Huangpu Yujie suffered typical symptoms of the disease, including shortness of breath and convulsions, early on February 26 and died at noon.

Her two-year-old brother who experienced mouth sores and high fever was sent to a hospital on February 22. He died after an hour of emergency treatment.

Two brothers, Shi Yuhang and Shi Aosong, became ill on February 19 and were sent to Minquan People's Hospital. The older boy, Shi Yuhang, 14 months old, died a day later. He was reported to have suffered mouth sores, skin rashes and high fever, all symptoms of the disease.

Doctors, however, did not mention a possible connection to the disease in his case history but said he died of respiratory failure and bleeding in his lungs. But his younger brother was diagnosed with hand, foot and mouth disease and experienced almost the same symptoms. There was no report on his condition.

Task force probe

A task force of medical experts from Beijing hospitals found at least 100 cases from March 7, but only 12 of them had been reported. Reports of cases or suspected cases of the infectious diseases are required within 24 hours of discovery.

The investigation followed a news report last week by China National Radio that medical staff at the county's hospital had apparently falsified medical histories to hide a large number of cases in the area.

So far, Minquan has reported 227 cases of the illness this year, while the whole of Henan Province has more than 2,700 cases.

In east China's Shandong Province, two boys in Heze City died of the disease on Sunday and Monday, local authorities said.

A seven-month-old boy died at 8:23pm on Sunday, 10 hours after he was rushed to the Heze Infectious Disease Hospital. A 15-month-old boy died at noon on Monday in the People's Hospital of Juancheng County, the Shandong Provincial Health Department reported.

The health department has dispatched expert teams to Heze to instruct on emergency treatment as well as disease control and prevention.


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