MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Americans traveling to China should take certain health precautions following an outbreak of a highly infectious virus that has killed 26 children since late March, according to military medical officials.

As a first step, they urge active-duty servicemembers and their families headed to China to stop by a base public health office for a travel medical briefing.

It’s a recommendation they extend to anyone going to a foreign location, not just China, according to Maj. Mahendra Kabbur, public health flight commander at Misawa Air Base.

While it’s still safe to go to China, Kabbur and Lt. Col. Cheryl Lowry, 35th Aerospace Medical Squadron commander at Misawa, said travelers should wash their hands frequently, drink bottled water and eat fruit that can be peeled. Travelers should also avoid salad, ice cubes and ice cream, especially in rural areas. Also, they should reconstitute powdered baby formula with bottled water, Lowry said.

Those precautions apply not to just China but elsewhere throughout Asia and overseas, where water sources might be contaminated.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing posted information about the outbreak on its Web site, noting there were no specific precautions to heed other than the general hygiene recommendations for living in China.

The outbreak of enterovirus 71 — which can cause a severe type of hand, foot and mouth disease — has sickened more than 5,000 people since late March, mostly in rural eastern China. Fuyang, about 500 miles south of Beijing, is among the hardest hit cities, with 362 new cases reported as of Monday, according to The Associated Press.

The World Health Organization said the virus is unlikely to be a threat to the Beijing Olympics in August, since it is a disease mostly affecting young children, the AP reported.

Enterovirus 71 can cause a number of diseases and is of particular concern for children younger than 5, Lowry said, noting that adults tend to have some immunity. In more serious cases, the virus can cause meningitis, Kabbur said. There is no vaccine.

The number of cases is expected to peak in June or July, according to the World Health Organization.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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