The number of children being hospitalised with the most severe symptoms of a dangerous virus, blamed for four deaths in a current NSW epidemic, has increased in latest weekly data.
NSW Health surveillance data reveals eight children diagnosed with meningitis or encephalitis (brain swelling) — among neurological complications of enterovirus 71 (EV71) — were admitted to hospitals in the week ending June 9.
Meanwhile, 41 children aged under 10 were taken to emergency departments with hand, foot and mouth disease, which can be a milder symptom of EV71, in the same week.
It brings the total number of children who have suffered severe neurological complications linked to EV71 at Sydney’s children’s hospitals this year to 124.
A child who tested positive for enterovirus and bacterial sepsis (blood infection) died early this month. It followed fatalities of three infants under the age of two in April, January and December. Two are confirmed to have been caused by EV71, while the other two remain under investigation.
A NSW Coroner's Court spokesman told aww.com.au the deaths of one boy and two girls had been referred to the coroner in relation to suspected EV71 — while details of the most recent death were yet to be clarified.
"The infants were aged between five months and 18 months and were from metropolitan Sydney and the Hunter region," he said.
"Post mortem and toxicology reports have been ordered and the coroner will make a determination once the information has been received."
So far, the epidemic has peaked in the week ending March 31 — although levels of meningitis, encephalitis and hand, foot and mouth disease remain at the highest levels seen in at least five years. Numbers had dipped in the last week of May before rising again in the latest data.
This is the first time the more virulent C4a strain of enterovirus 71, which has previously circulated among and killed children in Asia, has been dominant in Australia.
While some children will suffer only mild symptoms it can cause polio-like paralysis in rare cases and is therefore being monitored closely by infectious diseases experts.
Because suspected EV71 patients weren’t routinely subject to detailed testing before NSW Health introduced its enhanced surveillance program began in mid-April, only 18 have been confirmed EV71 positive. Another 103 tested positive for enterovirus generally, while 13 had missing laboratory results, six were negative and two had results pending.
“The enhanced enterovirus surveillance system will be continued until enterovirus activity in the community has receded,” a NSW Health spokesperson said.
Good hygiene is the best way to prevent the spread of EV71.