Near-record cases of HFMD in Japan

A child gets her mouth checked.

Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) (see below) is running rampant this summer.

There has been a sharp rise in the number of patients infected with the viral disease, which causes a rash on infants’ hands and feet and in their mouths, according to preliminary figures released by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) in early August. The NIID is calling for vigilance, as the epidemic is likely to continue until around September.

Reports from about 3,000 pediatric institutions across the country show there was an average of 10.26 HFMD patients per medical institution from July 27 to Aug. 2. This is the second most in history, following the record of 10.98 patients per institution from July 11 to 17 in 2011, according to the institute.

By prefecture, Miyazaki saw the highest number of HFMD patients per medical institution at 19.61, followed by 19.56 in Niigata, 18.73 in Miyagi and 18.67 in Yamagata.

Most of the prefectures that had more patients than the national average were in the Kanto, Hokuriku and Tohoku regions, but Osaka Prefecture also had more at 11.26.

HFMD is caused by several types of viruses. The predominant virus this year is less likely to cause serious symptoms, but a virus that became more prevalent from July causes a rash in other areas as well as the hands and feet, according to the NIID.

Tsuguto Fujimoto, general manager of Infectious Disease Surveillance Center, urged everyone to take preventative measures against the disease until around autumn.

“Wash your hands frequently with running water and soap,” he said. “And don’t touch any faeces when you’re changing diapers.”

■ Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is an infectious disease caused by enteroviruses. The viruses are transmitted to humans through airborne droplets produced by coughing or sneezing, and from faeces through mucous membranes in the nose and mouth. There is no effective cure or vaccine. Most symptoms naturally subside in a few days, though meningitis and brain fever can result.