Several kindergartens have been shut down across Ho Chi Minh City this week as a hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) scare sweeps the country.
Vang Anh nursery school in District 8 closed its summer classes after one of its 120 children went to school with advanced symptoms of the disease, the Tuoi Tre said in Thursday report. The school won't reopen until the next school year.
A notice outside Vang Anh's closed gates currently reads "HFMD is spreading quickly and has become dangerous. We hope parents can overcome this difficulty and keep their children healthy at home."
A teacher from Vang Anh said that the sick child stayed home for a week but returned after the parents insisted that the child had only a sore throat.
The report quoted the teacher as saying that the child then vomitted in class and fell unconscious before being hospitalized. "Right after that, health officials checked all children at the school and the school decided to close," the teacher said.
Ten public kindergartens in the district have also closed for similar reasons.
Anh Linh private kindergarten is still open, has said it will not receive children with fever and red rashes on their hand, feet, mouth, knee, all of which are signs of HFMD.
The schools' closures have become a major headache for some parents who don't have babysitters.
But Trieu Tuan, head of District 8 Education and Training Office, said there was no law that kindergartens had to remain open during the summer. Summer classes have always been optional for schools and teachers that want to earn extra money, he said.
Ten cases of HFMD have been discovered at District 8 kindergartens recently. One child has died and one is currently in critical condition.
Tuan said his office's policy was that any administrators that felt their schools were unsafe or unable to deal with the HFMD threat should indeed close for the summer.
The Ministry of Education and Training has ordered city and provincial departments to better prepare themselves to fight the disease, the Tuoi Tre report said.
Any school that has at least two sick children in the same class has to report to local medical center and close the class for ten days, the statement said.
Statistics released Thursday from the Preventive Health Department at the Health Ministry showed that 16,182 children have been infected with HFMD over the country this year, up 60 percent of the total cases last year.
The disease has killed 49 children across the country, most of them under 5, including two latest cases in the northern province of Thanh Hoa on Wednesday and Thursday.
HCMC has reported the highest HFMD death rate this year, with 17 so far, followed by 11 fatal cases in nearby Dong Nai Province and five each in Binh Duong and Quang Ngai.
Nguyen Dac Tho, deputy director of HCMC Preventive Health Center, said that the number of HFMD cases has increased sharply this year as C4, a new genotype of Enterovirus 71 -- which causes HFMD -- has only recently appeared in Vietnam.
The new genotype can make children who have been previously infected fall sick again, Tho said.
He said the city has recorded between 400 to 450 child with HFMD every week in recent months.
The most severe week saw more than 500 children falling sick, the doctor said.
Truong Huu Khanh, head of the Infection Department at Children's Hospital No.1 in HCMC, said that the hospital had only a few cases in previous years.
But at the moment, the department is treating 160-200 children with HFMD and between 700 and 100 others are hospitalized every day.
Khanh said that many of the deaths were due to late hospitalization, though some deaths occured despite early treatment as the disease appears to have gotten stronger.
Two children died from HFMD at the Children's Hospital No.2 in HCMC last week, one from District 12 and one from outside the city. Both were hospitalized in critical condition.
The hospital, which says it has been receiving 60 new HFMD cases each day, was treating 180 HFMD patients on Wednesday .
A doctor at the hospital said that the highest number of HFMD patients at the hospital last year was around 35, a peak figure that then declined after June.
Meanwhile, health authorities in the southern region have also expressed concern over the spread of the disease.
Bac Lieu Province in the Mekong Delta has reported 129 local children as infected with the virus. Two had died as of Wednesday.
The province shut down Hoa Mai Kindergarten for one week after three children were found sick recently.
Can Tho Children's Hospital in Can Tho City has received more than 2,800 HFMD-infected children during the first half this year, more than double the number from the same period last year.
Many cases were brought from nearby provinces, the hospital said.
Figures from An Giang Province showed a 30 percent increase in HFMD cases and those from Dong Thap more than four times over the same time last year.
Doctors have recommended that parents and teachers protect their children by washing their hands regularly with soap, sterilizing floors, furniture and children's toys, and by quarantining the sick children until recovery, which takes at least seven days.