Hospitals have been inundated with sufferers and corridors have had to be converted into wards.

 

The cause of the outbreak is not known.

 

The infection causes hand, foot and
mouth disease [GALLO/GETTY]
Enteroviruses are spread mostly through contact with infected blisters or faeces and can cause high fever, paralysis and swelling of the brain or its lining.


There are no vaccines or antiviral agents available to treat or prevent the virus, but health officials say simple hygiene steps can prevent it spreading.

 

The delay in reporting the virus to the public has triggered heated debate and criticism in the Chinese media, which said local government officials should be sacked.


In 2002 Chinese officials were accused of dragging their feet in reporting the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

 

The virus spread around the world killing more than 500, although most of the deaths were in mainland China and Hong Kong.