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World - Africa

Child-killing virus baffles Taiwan

Child
All of those infected have been children   

U.S. experts join search for answers

June 8, 1998
Web posted at: 1:20 p.m. EDT (1720 GMT)

In this story:

TAIPEI, Taiwan (CNN) -- An intestinal viral epidemic sweeping Taiwan has killed at least 31 children, but as U.S. experts joined in the battle against the deadly disease, local health experts said on Monday they expect the outbreak to slow, based on previous patterns.

The intestinal bug, identified as enterovirus 71, is known to have infected at least 10,000 children across Taiwan. Dozens have required hospitalization. Adults have not been sickened.

Health officials say there is no known vaccine for the virus, whose symptoms include fever, skin rash, blisters in the mouth and on the feet and hands.

Hundreds of panicked parents jammed emergency health hot lines set up in the past week to spread information about the disease.

'Under control'

A 9-year-old girl in the capital city of Taipei died on Monday, pushing the death toll to 31. The new death came as Taiwan's health department said the virus -- which normally hits children under 5 -- had reached its peak and confirmed for the first time that 30 children had died.

"All the cases are declining dramatically and the disease is under control," Department of Health spokesman Hsu Kuo-hsiung told a news conference. "We are very optimistic about the way it is controlled."

Nevertheless, authorities in four towns in the central county of Changhua on Monday closed nursery schools in a bid to curb the spread of the illness, the reports added.

Changhua County has been worst hit, with 11 children dead, followed by Taipei County where 10 were killed by the enterovirus.

Same virus detected elsewhere in world

U.S. disease experts visited a military hospital in Taipei where some of the children were treated.

Doctor

The experts, who arrived Saturday from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, are to stay in Taiwan for up to four weeks to investigate the virus, which has also been detected in Bulgaria and in Malaysia where an outbreak last year killed 30 children.

"Previous cases in Malaysia and elsewhere showed that the enterovirus attack lasted about six to eight weeks," said Taiwan Health Department Director Chan Chi-hsien, who noted that Taiwan's outbreak began in April. "Theoretically the epidemic should slow down any time soon."

But Chan warned it was too early for conclusions about the viral cycle to be drawn.

"It looks like these children had got brain infections and died suddenly," said U.S. epidemic intelligence officer Anthony Mounts, referring to the deaths in Taiwan. "They died so swiftly and ... because of the lack of autopsy ... it's very difficult to know whether they died of the virus."

The U.S. scientists also were meeting with Taiwanese health officials to discuss "preventive measures," Hsu said.

Correspondent May Lee contributed to this report.

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