Hand, foot, mouth epidemic catches HCMC health authorities off-guard

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  Children treated for hand, foot and mouth disease at a Ho Chi Minh City hospital

The hand, foot and mouth epidemic in spreading faster than expected in Vietnam's second city, Ho Chi Minh City, with more than 500 people hospitalized in recent weeks.

Figures from the city Preventive Health Department show there were 2,258 cases in August, taking the total number this year to 7,804.

The incidence was the highest since early this year and double the July number.

Dr Nguyen Dac Tho, deputy head of the department, said last year the disease had peaked in May and June.

Health authorities had made concerted efforts to contain the disease in the first half the year and not expected the outbreak to be so severe, he said.

"The number of patients increased suddenly," he said.

Many parents have been off-guard, he added.

Nguyen Tan Binh, director of the Health Department, said schools should be cautious since a new year has started, increasing the risk of spread of the disease, which mostly affects children under five.

It has killed 29 children this year, and 169 last year.

There is no vaccine or specific medication for the disease, which is caused by the Enterovirus and starts with mouth sores and blisters on the hands and feet.

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Health officials said in Vietnam HFMD is caused among others by the most virulent strain, EV-71, which has caused all the fatalities and most of the infections this year.

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