A flulike virus particularly dangerous to small children claimed three more toddlers Wednesday, raising the death toll to 28 and prompting officials to close nursery schools and kindergartens in central Taiwan.

The enterovirus 71 virus hits Taiwan each summer. Although there are no firm numbers to compare, the Health Department said this year's outbreak appears to be particularly severe.It said almost 7,500 cases had been reported, but the outbreak appears to have peaked, and the number of new cases should start dropping.

Three small children, all under 2 years old, died in the city of Taichung Wednesday after lapsing into comas, local health officials said. At least another 122 infants and small children have been hospitalized for complications from the virus.

In one hospital alone, Changhua Christian Hospital in the central city of Changhua, nine children have died since mid-May.

Complications from the virus, which is spread by physical contact, can include encephalitis, meningitis and acute inflammation of the heart muscle. Early symptoms are similar to the flu, including fever, headache and vomiting. Later, ulcers or blisters in the mouth and a rash on the hands and feet can develop.

Anxious parents flooded a hotline set up by the Health Department, seeking advice on treatment for their children.

Nursery schools in parts of Changhua and Tainan counties were ordered closed for a week.