Killer virus closes kindergartens

3rd July 1998 at 01:00
Education authorities in Taiwan have closed public kindergartens to protect children from the killer virus that has now claimed 54 lives and may have spread to Hong Kong.

Taipei's bureau of education has also cancelled all summer camps for primary children and swimming programmes for students of different levels in the hope that the epidemic will be brought under control.

The new strain of enterovirus 71, a hand, foot and mouth virus, first struck Taiwan children in April. At least 262 are now seriously ill. Under-fives are most at risk.

Paediatrician Li Chin-yun, of National Taiwan University, warned that the virus could spread to Hong Kong and other parts of South-east Asia.

On Monday, Hong Kong's department of health announced that four people now have symptoms. Tests are being carried out to establish if it is the same virus, and Hong Kong is now on alert against the disease.

The department of health in Taiwan has warned parents to watch out for symptoms, which include swollen hands and feet, sleepiness, coughing and rapid breathing. The virus is predominantly spread through faecal-oral transmission. Seminars are being organised to alert teachers on hygiene measures to prevent the disease spreading.

Private kindergartens were due to reopen on Wednesday after cleaning. But if two children in any school showed symptoms, the school would have to be closed again.

Parents have been told not to take their children to public places. But as most mothers work, many are taking their children with them. Normally, children may remain in private kindergartens from 7.30 am until 6 pm, or from 7. 30 am until 4pm in public ones.

Doctors have estimated that at least 200,000 children have been infected over the past weeks across Taiwan. In most cases the virus is not fatal.

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