China is grappling with breakout of hand-foot-mouth disease (HFMD) among children.
The country's Health Minister Chen Zhu urged grassroots level medical staff Saturday to fan out across the countryside to detect and prevent cases of HFMD, which has killed at least 19 children this year.
The staff should visit every village and even every household to detect HFMD quickly, he told a tele-conference of disease prevention in the central provinces of Henan and Hubei and the eastern province of Shandong.
The ministry said 41,846 cases of HFMD had been detected by March 27 in 30 provinces and regions, except Tibet. Most cases were in rural areas.
In Shandong's Heze City alone, the disease killed five babies in the week ended Saturday.
Heze reported 1,734 HFMD cases between Jan. 1 and midnight Friday, according to the city's health bureau. On Friday alone, 440 cases were reported.
The city government has designated the Heze traditional Chinese medicine hospital as the second hospital receiving HFMD patients after the Heze Hospital for Infectious Diseases.
Chen urged local health authorities to report cases promptly to the ministry and take effective measures if an outbreak occurred or seemed likely to occur.
Experts should be sent to areas with a high incidence of HFMD to offer help with treatment, and training of local medical staff, he said.
The Health Ministry established a work team headed by Chen and Vice Minister Ma Xiaowei to oversee prevention work.
The disease, which is common in China, took an unusually high toll in the first few months of 2008, infecting nearly 25,000 people nationwide and killing around 40, according to government figures.
By comparison, only 17 deaths were reported in 2007.
The HFMD can be caused by a host of intestinal viruses, most commonly EV71.
HFMD usually starts with a slight fever followed by blisters and ulcers in the mouth and rashes on the hands and feet. Those with EV71 often show serious symptoms. HFMD can also cause meningitis, encephalitis, pulmonary edema and paralysis in some children. There is no vaccine.