hand, foot and mouth disease
A child suffering from hand, foot and mouth disease, receives medical treatment at a hospital in Hefei, China Reuters

Over 32,000 children in Vietnam have been struck by hand-foot-mouth disease, 81 of whom have died from the illness.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has put the country on alert, and implored national ministries and agencies to redouble their efforts to curb the spread of infection. So far, the disease has been recorded in 17 different provinces and cities in the country.

Health Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien has said that hand-foot-mouth isn't yet serious enough to be considered an epidemic, but is urging local hospitals to prepare for cases of the disease.

Hand-foot-mouth is a viral infection that is particularly dangerous to children under five. It is characterized by fever, sores in the mouth and blistery rashes.

The disease is contagious, and can be spread by person-to-person contact. HFMD is not the same as foot-and-mouth or hoof-and-mouth disease, which is an illness found primarily in livestock.

There is no specific treatment for the disease, nor is there a vaccine, according to the Center for Disease Control. However, the virus usually goes away on its own, and can be prevented through strict sanitation measures.

The European Commission has pledged $86,000 to the Vietnamese Red Cross from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund.