HFMD cases hit four-year high

SINGAPORE - Weekly cases of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) are at their highest since 2008, with 1,394 cases reported last week, up from 1,171 in the previous week.

According to The Straits Times (ST), the last time the number of cases rose above the 1,400 mark was in 2008.

However, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has assured the public that the current strain in recent cases is a milder form of the disease.

Furthermore, the ministry noted that the disease is endemic in Singapore, which means that yearly seasonal outbreaks are not unusual.

So far, three childcare centres have been closed, and another three are on the ministry's watch list.

The three closed are the Little Village on the Grange in Grange Road, Ascension Kindercare in Potong Pasir and Bethel Child Develpment Centre in Aljunied Crescent.

Childcare centres and kindergartens with more than 16 pupils down over a 24-day stretch are required by the Health Ministry to close for 10 days.

The epidemic level for diseases is 780 cases a week.

HMFD, which has symptoms such as fever, sore throat and blisters on the tongue, palms and soles, can be cause by several strains of the virus.

The more serious EV71 strain can be fatal.

Dr Chan Poh Chong of the National University Hospital told ST that taking into consideration past experience, the number of cases is likely to rise even higher.

Taking cautionary measures

The disease spreads by contact with body fluids such as saliva, mucus, faeces and fluids from the rash of an infected person.

MOH said it is working towards ensuring preschools and childcare centres take steps against the spread of HFMD.

These include having high hygiene standards such as washing children's hand regularly, and checking their hands and mouths for blisters every morning.

It has also increased the number of inspections of childcare centres and kindergartens.

MOH advised parents to keep their sick children at home until they are fully recovered.

Parents should also keep their children away from large gatherings of children, such as enrichment classes or swimming pools, said Patricia Koh, founder-director of Pat's Schoolhouse in Serangoon.