Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) has claimed the lives of nine children in Ho Chi Minh City so far this year, according to the municipal Preventive Health Center.
Last year, the illness claimed only one life in the southern metro.
In a report released last week, the center warned that the disease may become endemic. It has now spread to 225 of the city's 322 wards and communes. The number of infected children doubled to 1,200, from the previous year.
Most patients are less than three years old; twenty remain in critical condition.
Nine children have died from the disease and the number of infected patients is on the rise.
The latest HFMD fatality in the country was reported Tuesday in the central province of Quang Ngai. One day before he died, Le Quang Thanh, a 23-month-old baby boy had been admitted to the province's General Hospital with high fever.
According to the Ministry of Health, 96 percent of more than 2,000 HFMD cases recorded in 26 cities and provinces across the country this year originated in the southern region.
It also noted that 30 percent of infected children attend kindergartens.
To cope with the problem, the HCMC Health Department has asked preventive health centers in the city to sterilize schools, kindergartens and nurseries.
Ho Chi Minh City's Children's Hospital No. 1 said they've sent the virus samples abroad to test if a new virus strain of the disease is responsible for the recent outbreak.
Last month, roughly 600 children were admitted to hospital for HFMD treatment "” nearly twice the cases seen in March.
Nguyen Dac Tho, deputy director of the HCMC Preventive Health Center, said the disease may spread further in the next two months.
HFMD is caused by intestinal viruses in the Picornaviridae family. The most common strains causing HFMD are Coxsackie A virus and Enterovirus 71 (EV-71).
HFMD usually affects infants and children, and is quite common. It is moderately contagious and is spread through direct contact with the mucus, saliva, or feces of an infected person.
It commonly occurs in nursery schools or kindergartens, usually during the summer and autumn months. The usual incubation period is 37 days.
Typical symptoms of the disease include fever and sore throat accompanied by a rash which may appear on the hands, feet, mouth, tongue, and inside of the cheeks.
"Normally, in Vietnam, the outbreaks occur during two periods every year," Dr. Tho said. "The first outbreak typically take place from March to May and the second from September to November. This year, the number of infected children continued to rise after the end of May."
Scientists have yet to discover a vaccine or specific treatment for the disease, the doctor noted. He advised caution and prevention.
"Keep children clean, sterilize their surrounding environment and avoid contact with infected patients," he advised.
Hot weather in Ho Chi Minh City and southern provinces has been blamed for the rising number of cases, according to doctors at HCMC Children's Hospital No. 1.
Doctor Tho of the HCMC Preventive Health Center said a new strain of the virus may have been the contributing factor.