At least five children less than a year old have died in the past few hours and 41 others are suffering severe respiratory infections in a highly marginalized area of the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, officials said Saturday.

The state government said in a communique that the deaths occurred in the Emiliano Zapata community of Yajalon municipality, and that health authorities are attending the children suffering from the illness.

Authorities said that these respiratory infections, brought on by the intense cold and heavy rains, are characterized by coughs and high fevers, and that the bacteria tend to spread during the winter in highly marginalized areas.

To take charge of the emergency, Chiapas Gov. Manuel Velasco designated the head of the Health Secretariat.

Three health-care brigades also arrived in the community to attend patients and apply preventive measures, including vaccinations to ward off a possible epidemic.

Meanwhile the state government offered all its support to the affected families and to the inhabitants of the community "to keep the disease from spreading." EFE