Cover-up fears on infant deaths

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 March, 2009, 12:00am

Health authorities have identified two infant deaths from hand, foot and mouth disease, in Heze, Shandong province, and a third in Minquan county, Henan, amid claims of a cover-up and state media reports suggesting that the death toll is much higher.

Seven-month-old Heze boy Liu Xinkun was admitted to the city's Contagious Disease Hospital, began vomiting and having breathing difficulties on Sunday night, and died three hours later, a statement on the Shandong Health Department website said.

Another boy, Zhang Heng, 15 months, was admitted to the centre on Sunday night with rashes on his hands, mouth and feet and died around midday on Monday.

Both were determined as having died from complications related to hand, foot and mouth disease, a common infectious ailment among children and rarely fatal unless there are severe complications. Last May, 176,000 children around the country were reported to have contracted the disease and 40 of them died.

Sheng Yingmin, an official in charge of conveying information on epidemics to the media, denied any deaths had been covered up and said such reports were making news out of nothing. She also declined to reveal the scale of the outbreak.

But The Beijing News reported that six people were suspected to have died of the disease since March 8 and identified two by name.

China National Radio reported that in Minquan county, in neighbouring Henan, the Ministry of Health concluded that Hu Wenyan, two, had died of the disease.

CNR said the disease was the suspected cause of death in 10 other cases, quoting doctors who said the death toll since the Lunar New Year was at least in double digits.

Minquan county has reported 227 confirmed cases of the disease, including 11 in Beiguan township. But three medical experts from Beijing who checked the township hospital outpatient work log said there were at least 100 since March 7, according to the Legal Daily.

Another two doctors said the outbreak actually affected more than 2,000 children in the county.

The Henan government has sacked or disciplined several officials and doctors in Minquan county for mishandling the outbreak. The government did not mention fabricating medical data.

Calls to the Henan Health Department press office went unanswered.