Annual Taiwan virus claims more children's lives
More kids affected this year by enterovirus 71June 19, 1998
Web posted at: 1:23 p.m. EDT (1723 GMT)
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TAIPEI, Taiwan (CNN) -- The death toll from an intestinal virus that strikes children has climbed to at least 46, Taiwan health officials said Friday. But officials said the rising number -- eight more deaths this week -- did not mean the epidemic was spreading.
"We saw a declining trend based on the information we have gathered so far," said Hsu Kuo-hsiung, acting director of the Bureau of Communicable Disease Control. "But we have not let down our guard. We are continuing to monitor the situation."
Health officials have been under fire for failing to warn the public about the dangers of the disease formally known as enterovirus 71. It has early flu-like symptoms, but can turn fatal quickly by infecting a child's lungs and heart.
"We don't have a vaccine for enterovirus 71," Dr. Chou Wen-lin, a pediatrician, told CNN. "Also, we don't have very effective or safe anti-viral agents."
As Taiwan frantically searches for clues to the disease, the government has called in specialists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Enterovirus 71, which spreads by physical contact, hits Taiwan every summer, but this year's outbreak has been especially severe. It has infected mostly toddlers and other children who have not been exposed to it previously and lack antibodies.
Since mid-April, 174 children have developed serious complications but have recovered or are recovering, Kuo-hsiung said.
Estimates by some physicians that the disease could have infected at least 100,000 newborn and small children triggered panic among Taiwanese parents, many of whom have kept their children out of school.
"Of course, people should be worried," Kuo-hsiung said. "We're urging parents to keep small children away from crowded public places, and watch their health very carefully."
But that's not enough for Leonardo Fernandez, a trade representative for the Mexican government stationed in Taiwan. His wife and 3-year-old daughter plan to return to Mexico until the outbreak subsides.
"There have been a lot of rumors," Fernandez told CNN. "We are not really sure what's going on, so we are taking no chances." Other expatriates are following suit.
Virologists said the airborne virus could infect adults, although it has only caused deadly complications among children.
A similar outbreak in 1997 killed 30 toddlers in Sarawak state on the Malaysian side of Borneo.
Correspondent Mike Chinoy and Reuters contributed to this report.
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