Hand, foot and mouth disease is a common and normally mild condition, but EV-71 can result in a more serious form of the disease that can lead to paralysis, brain swelling and sometimes death.

 

Health officials said they expected more cases of hand, foot and mouth to emerge because of the tighter reporting requirements and because the disease will likely peak with warmer weather in June and July.

 

The number and scope of cases in recent years, along with the need for increased surveillance, prompted the mandatory reporting rules, said Mao Qun'an, a health ministry spokesman.

 

Last year, some 80,000 hand, foot and mouth cases were recorded in China, with 17 deaths, Mao said.

 

These figures were likely incomplete because reporting was not mandatory then, he added.

 

The disease has been reported across China ranging from the tropical island province of Hainan in the south to Jilin province in the northeast, Yunnan province in the southwest and Inner Mongolia in the north.

 

Kindergartens closed

 

Local government officials in Inner Mongolia have ordered the closure of

all kindergartens, and began morning inspections at primary schools in the worst-hit Dengkou county until the epidemic eases.

 

Xinhua reported this week that 10 people had been punished for failing to properly tackle hand, foot and mouth in Anhu the hardest-hit central province where 22 children have died since March

 

The World Health Organisation has said the outbreak does not pose a threat to China's hosting of the Olympic Games in August.

 

Hand, foot and mouth disease spreads through contact with saliva, faeces, fluid secreted from blisters or mucus from the nose and throat.

 

There is no vaccine or specific treatment, but most children affected by the disease typically recover quickly without problems.

 

It is unrelated to the foot and mouth disease that affects livestock.

 

Al Jazeera correspondent Melissa Chan, says the growing panic over E-71 has shown how public health matters are often still handled in China – with officials seemingly fumbling, incompetent, and secretive.

 

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.