SINGAPORE - For the week ending May 19, the number of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) cases reached a record high of 1,687.
The number of cases of HFMD is rising to alarming levels this year, far exceeding the epidemic level of 780 cases a week since February this year.
While the Ministry of Health (MOH) is stepping up its efforts in reigning in the spread of the disease, which is known to come in waves, parents of young children can also do their part by educating themselves on the dangers of HFMD and how to prevent it.
This is especially important in view of the upcoming school holidays, which will likely translate into further record-breaking outbreaks.
To this end, here's all the information parents need to know to protect their children against the potentially fatal disease, provided by the Health Promotion Board.
What is hand, foot and mouth disease?
HFMD is an infection disease caused by certain viruses. It is a common disease which has been around for many years.
Who does it affect?
It affects all age groups, but young children, under the age of 5 years, are more likely to be infected.
How does it spread?
HFMD is spread through direct contact with saliva, nasal discharge, faeces or the fluid from the blisters of an infected person.
It can also be spread indirectly through articles contaminated by these secretions.
Outbreaks can occur in child care centres, kindergartens and schools. Some infected people may not have obvious symptoms or signs. They can also spread the virus.
How do you know if your child has HFMD?
A child with HFMD usually presents with the following symptoms:
• fever for 2 - 3 days
• sore throat and runny nose
• rash (flat or raised red spots, some with blisters) on the hands (especially the palms), feet and occasionally on the buttocks, arms and legs
• mouth ulcers
• poor appetite
• vomiting and diarrhea
• tiredness and weakness
A child is infectious throughout the duration of the illness.
What should you do if your child has HFMD?
• Bring your child to your family doctor or nearest polyclinic.
• Encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids. You may need to give small amounts (e.g. 30ml) frequently (e.g. half hourly)
• Change to a soft diet such as mashed potatoes, porridge or pureed fruits.
• Give medications prescribed by the doctor, such as paracetamol syrup for fever and pain, and soothing gel for the mouth ulcers
In most cases, your child's immune system will overcome the infection in time and he will recover.
Is HFMD serious?
In most cases, HFMD is mild. However, a few children who are infected with the EV71 strain of the virus can become very ill, with signs and symptoms such as:
• disorientation, drowsiness and/or irritability
• severe headache, giddiness or neck stiffness
• breathlessness or turning blue
• dehydration - this can happen due to continuous vomiting, diarrhea or pure fluid intake as a result of painful mouth ulcers. The child is very tired, has a dry tongue and may pass very little urine.
If you notice any of the above, bring your child to the Emergency Department of the nearest hospital immediately.
What can you do to prevent the spread of HFMD?
HFMD is highly contagious. Your child is also susceptible to getting other infections when he has HFMD.
Here is what you should do if your child has HFMD:
• Keep your child away from public places
• Get everyone at home to wash their hands frequently with soap
• Keep his toys, books, eating utensils, towels and clothes separate from others
• Inform the school, kindergarten or child care centre as soon as possible. They can monitor other children closely and take additional precautions to prevent the spread of HFMD
• Keep your child at home until he is fully recovered, after the expiry of the medical certificate (MC) given by the family doctor.
• Ensure that any siblings are well before sending them to the school, kindergarten, or child care centre.