Red Cross volunteer
© Quang Tuan / Vietnam Red Cross
A Red Cross volunteer talks to Hoang Thi Kim Phung, whose two-and-a-half -month-old son was admitted to hospital in Long An, Vietnam, with symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease
Hanoi has asked the World Health Organization for help to cure a virulent disease affecting children. Symptoms include blistering on hands, feet and mouths accompanied by high fever and eventual organ failure.

­Nineteen children died from the illness in 2011 alone.

The virus spreads through direct contact with an infected person's oral discharges or saliva, the fluid from burst blisters or the stool of infected persons.

The Red Cross mission in Vietnam reports the disease has already infected over 28,000 children this year, which is more than 10 times the number of infected children in the same period last year.

According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), last year a record 110,000 children became infected, with 169 deaths.

The hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) mostly affects children under three years old (80 per cent of totals cases) the Red Cross said. There is no known treatment for HFMD.

Human HFMD differs from a similar foot-and-mouth disease affecting cattle, sheep, and pigs.

The virus was first detected last year in central Vietnam. Initially the disease died away, but later many new infections were reported. Most of those infected are from one impoverished village.

Last year HFMD killed 19 people, reportedly most of them children. One hundred and seventy-one people were hospitalized, 10 in a critical condition. Some patients get milder symptoms and are able to be treated at home.

Vietnam's Ministry of Health launched a fruitless investigation.

In previous years the registered HFMD cases were mild and most patients recovered after a maximum 10 days, but the new virulent strain EV71 has developed into a fatal disease.

The IFRC say it needs $840,000 to sponsor a program preventing the spread of the disease.

Vietnamese authorities are conducting a campaign to improve sanitation and hygiene practices in internal migrant families living in densely-populated areas.

Cases of HFMD are also on increase in other Asian countries, including Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.

HFMD (Hand, foot and mouth disease) awareness posters (Vietnam Red Cross / p-VNM0322)