Hand, foot and mouth disease, a virus that usually peaks during the hot months, has already killed 260 children in China this year and sickened hundreds of thousands more, the government said on Friday.
Every spring and summer China sees deadly outbreaks of the disease, which typically infects infants and children, particularly in rural areas where hygiene is poor. Most cases are mild, with children recovering quickly after suffering little more than a fever and rash.
But the disease has struck earlier than normal this year, and by May 4 the number of deaths reported were 143 per cent higher than the same period last year, said Xiao Donglou, the Health Ministry's deputy director of disease control and prevention, according to the Beijing News.
An official with the ministry's press section confirmed the accuracy of the figures reported.
Hand, foot and mouth disease is characterised by fever, mouth sores and a rash with blisters. It is spread by direct contact with nose and throat discharges, saliva, fluid from blisters, or the stool of infected people.
It is unrelated to the foot and mouth disease that affects livestock.
Nearly 430,000 children have been sickened by the disease so far this year while severe cases have jumped by two-thirds to 5,454, the report cited Xiao as saying.
Last year, there were 353 deaths from the disease, according to Health Ministry figures.