More than 12,400 children were infected with hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) in Vietnam over the first nine weeks of this year, a 7.4-fold increase from the same period last year.
According to the Health Ministry, 11 of the 12,400 cases were fatal while the number of fatalities during the same period last year was zero.
Several studies carried out by the ministry have shown that a high rate of healthy people, up to 71 percent, latently carry the virus strain Enterovirus 71 (EV-71), which causes the disease.
According to the Ho Chi Minh City Children's Hospital 1, around 50-60 children are admitted to the hospital for HFMD treatment each day, with 60 percent of the patients coming from the Mekong Delta.
Nguyen Dac Tho, deputy director of the HCMC Center for Preventive Medicine, told Vietweek that the number of HFMD infections in the city had reached "alarming level."
Between January and February, the city reported around 950 infections, including one fatality, tripling the number from the same period last year.
HCMC authorities blame hot weather combined with out-of-season rains for the spread of the disease.
In addition, dengue fever, meningitis and diarrhea have also been on the rise, due to hot weather.
North in Hanoi, HFMD has infected more than 500 children, but no fatalities have been reported in the region so far this year.
In the northern city of Hai Phong, more than 1,400 children have contracted HFMD viruses this year, with 15-18 new cases reported each day.
Khanh Hoa Province in south-central Vietnam has reported 300 cases, with 30-40 new cases each week, doubling figures from the same period last year.
Nguyen Van Binh, chief of the Vietnam Administration of Preventive Medicine, said the southern region has the highest ratio of HFMD infections (19.1 per 100,000 people) in the whole country.
In general, Vietnam has 13.1 HFMD infections per 100,000 people.
Experts have predicted that HFMD will continue to spread, with more infections and fatalities than last year.
Nguyen Tran Hien, chief of the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, said the situation surrounding the disease has come on strong earlier in 2012 than in previous years.
In previous years, HFMD tended to peak during two periods: from April to May and from August to September.
2011 saw a record number of HFMD infections (112,000) and fatalities (169) in Vietnam, but this year the infection rate will be higher, he said.
On March 2, the Health Ministry launched a national campaign to prevent and control the HFMD.
The ministry has sent three working groups to inspect anti-HFMD work in all 63 cities and provinces across the country.
Deputy Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long said local governments in cities and provinces should allocate more funds for the prevention of the disease.
Last year, localities that spent the least money on anti-HFMD campaigns had more HFMD infections and deaths, according to experts.
According to the Health Ministry, 76.9 percent of HFMD cases in 2011 contracted HFMD viruses in their living communities while the remaining 23.1 percent contracted the viruses at school.
More than 80 percent of HFMD fatalities in 2011 were caused by the EV-71 virus, which causes sores on the mouth and blisters on the hands and feet of those infected.
In the first nine weeks of this year, all HFMD fatalities were caused by EV-71.
Experts said one of the reasons for the disease was a lack of awareness about preventive methods like frequent hand washing for children and caregivers.
Not many adults maintain good hygiene after taking care of sick children, they said.
Regularly washing hands with soap is highly recommended, as well as having well cooked foods and clean drinks.