Number of HFMD cases race up

PHOTO: Number of HFMD cases race up

The number of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) cases among children is steadily increasing - with 1,119 children coming down with the viral infection just last week.

The figure is almost four times higher than the last five years' median of 319 cases and is 50 per cent more than the 780-per-week number required for a disease to be considered an epidemic threat.

The 780-per-week mark was reached in mid-February and has since steadily increased. According to The Straits Times, the last time the number of cases crossed 1,000 a week was at the end of August 2010.

Ministry of Health (MOH) yesterday ordered two more childcare centres to close because of the spread of HFMD cases among its children.

Little Footies in Serangoon Gardens and Pat's Schoolhouse in Meyer Road are the latest among eight childcare centres and kindergartens forced to be shut so far this year.

Another 10 are on the watchlist.

MOH gives the order when childcare centres or kindergartens have more than 16 HFMD cases, or when more than 23 per cent of its children are infected for more than 24 days.

When told to shut, the centres must close for 10 days in an attempt to break the chain of transmission.

HFMD, which commonly affects children, can cause symptoms such as fever, sore throat, mouth ulcers and blisters on palms and feet. These last between four and five days, and a child will be well enough to return to school after nine days. There is no vaccine or medication to prevent or cure the viral infection.

An MOH spokesman told AsiaOne that the current epidemic stems from the Coxsackievirus - different from Enterovirus 71 (EV71). The more dangerous strain, EV71, can cause serious illness and was responsible for the death of a child here in 2008.

MOH stressed that it is most concerned when EV71 as it is known to be associated with potentially serious complications.

While the ministry's surveillance shows that the uptrend is not EV71-related, MOH says it will continue to monitor the situation.