Hand, foot, and mouth disease has claimed the lives of 11 children in Vietnam this year among more than 12,400 reported infections as of March 10.
Health authorities are very concerned about the development as no fatalities were reported during the same period of 2011, when there were also only one seventh the infections 2012 has seen.
A Tuoi Tre report on Sunday said the disease has spread to 60 of Vietnam's 63 cities and provinces.
The Preventive Health Department at the Health Ministry reported more than 6,300 HFMD infections including nine deaths in the first six weeks of 2012; the rate of infection doubled over the next three weeks.
Doctor Ngo Thi Kim Yen, deputy director of the Da Nang Health Department in central Vietnam, said, "The difficulty for health agencies is that there is no medicine or vaccine for the disease.
"It's also very hard to stop the spread as it can come from healthy adults."
HFMD is caused by intestinal viruses, of which the most harmful and the most common strain in Vietnam is Enterovirus 71 (EV-71), causing mouth sores and blisters on hands and feet.
Several studies have shown that up to 71 percent of healthy people latently carry the virus.
Yen recommends people be vigilant with their children's hygiene, especially those under 5 years old, who account for the most of the infection statistics.
Hai Phong, which has reported more than 1,400 cases, or 60 percent of all northern cases, joins Ho Chi Minh City in the list of most infected localities.
HCMC has warned that the spread of HFMD was reaching epidemic proportions recently, as up to 180 new cases have been reported each week, with the total infections in February standing at three times more than the same period in 2011.
Doctor Ha Anh Tuan from Can Tho, the Mekong Delta town, said the situation is getting more serious and many cases have become critical faster than doctors had expected.
The infections in Dong Thap Province in the delta have risen six times over last year, while the nearby Hau Giang has reported 300 cases, compared to just two this time last year.
Most pediatric hospitals across the country have become overloaded with HFMD patients.
Parents at HCMC's Children's Hospital No.1 said their children had to share their beds with two or three others. Some had been placed in the lobby.
Yen from Da Nang Health Department said some parents have made the situation worse by bringing children without HFMD symptoms into the hospital. Not only does this further overcrowd facilities, it unnecessarily exposes children to actual cases of infection as well.
High death rates and rapid spread of the disease have left many people confused because as recently as the end of 2011, Vietnam's Health Ministry had claimed the disease was basically under control.
The disease killed 169 people last year, most of them children. Only 23 percent of the 112,000 infections last year occurred among children who were attending school.
Last November Ninh Thuan Province in central Vietnam announced the disease in its area had reached a pandemic level with over 650 infections and four fatalities. The pandemic was declared over a month later.
Vietnam's Health Ministry has not called HFMD a pandemic as Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien explained to Saigon Tiep Thi last October, "the World Health Organization has not made any move yet."
Tien also told the newspaper that there were no further instructions for the government to issue regarding the disease, adding, "the first thing to do is people have to protect themselves."
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