About 970 people remain in hospital - 58 of them in a critical or serious condition.
 
The infection causes hand, foot and mouth disease, with symptoms such as fever, mouth sores and blisters.
 
Above average rates

 

The ministry of health said cases of the disease might increase in the coming months, because June and July were the peak season for it.

 

Cases in some Chinese provinces, as well as Taiwan and Singapore, are running above year-ago levels, it said.

 

The infection causes hand, foot and
mouth disease [GALLO/GETTY]

The ministry has told all health authorities to report within 24 hours any cases of people contracting the virus.

 

Research and education on the disease will also be stepped up, including hygiene and prevention education for nursery and primary school staff.

 

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

 

Fuyang hospital's children's ward has been fitted with special equipment.

 

Food safety and water quality monitoring has been put under greater scrutiny to prevent the spread of the disease.

 

Cases of the disease have occurred in other central and eastern states.
 
However, the death of an 18-month-old boy in the southern province of Guangdong on Friday has raised concerns that the disease is spreading south.
 
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has cautioned that the outbreak is not a crisis.
 
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Gregory Hartl, from the WHO, said: "It is a common childhood illness. So it is not surprising that we do see outbreaks of this disease.
 
"And we have seen outbreaks much, much larger than this in the last ten years.
 

Unknown cause 

 

The cause of the outbreak is not known.

 

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.

Source: Agencies