Child caught HFMD? It could cost family $1,200

Ms Germaine Heng, 47, and her daughter Elizabeth Tai, six, washing their hands at MindChamps pre-school in Paragon.
PHOTO: Child caught HFMD? It could cost family $1,200

A child catching hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) could set a family back by $1,200, according to a study released yesterday. The outlay includes about $200 for medical bills, including consultation, tests and medicine, and around $1,000 for the opportunity cost of work when parents take days off to care for their children.

The average opportunity and medical costs for HFMD are higher than for other common childhood infections. Children with respiratory infections like colds, skin infections and diarrhoea set parents back about $900.

The survey - commissioned by soap brand Lifebuoy and modelled after methodology developed by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine - polled 301 mothers in March.

It found that 288 had children with respiratory infections in the past six months, while 142 had children with skin infections like rashes, and 80 had kids suffering from diarrhoea.

Only 21 mothers reported children with at least one episode of HFMD in the past six months and the economic costs were computed based on that sample.

"The costs for HFMD may not be super reliable because the sample size is small, but it gives you an idea when you compare it with other infections," said Associate Professor Paul Tambyah, president of the Society of Infectious Diseases (Singapore). Its symptoms include fever, mouth ulcers and spots on the hands and feet.

The survey, released on World Hand Hygiene Day yesterday, found that parents spent an average of $155 on medical bills and travel costs for each episode of childhood infection. Such a high figure could be down to parents consulting paediatricians or making more than one visit to the clinic, said Prof Tambyah.

Housewife Germaine Heng, 47, spent more than $300 when her son Zacchaeus Tai, 10, and daughter Elizabeth, six, caught HFMD two years ago.

"I had to wash my hands about 50 times during that period because I didn't want to carry germs from one child to another," she said. "We even employed an extra helper because my regular helper could not cope with house chores and nursing the kids."

About 65 per cent of mothers surveyed believe that they can prevent their children from falling ill. But of that number, only 6 per cent mention regular handwashing as a means to prevent children from catching ailments.

"But hand hygiene has been shown across the world to be highly cost-effective in reducing common childhood infections," said Prof Tambyah. "Water is not enough; what matters is contact time with soap. Try putting soap directly on your hands instead of rinsing your hands first and diluting the soap."

There were 31,779 cases of HFMD last year compared with 6,411 cases in 2004.

This article was published on May 6 in The Straits Times.

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