Unusually high number of HFMD cases starts off 2012

PHOTO: Unusually high number of HFMD cases starts off 2012

The number of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) cases have gone past the usual 780-a-week mark, as some 815 children have been diagnosed with this viral infection between Feb 12 to 18. A total of 3,457 cases have been recorded up to last week in this year. This is up from 1,383 cases in the corresponding period last year.

According to the Straits Times, this marks the onset of an epidemic.

This comes after HFMD levels were kept below epidemic levels last year.

A number of childcare centres are not on the watchlist, including Cherie Hearts in Mountbatten, The Little Skool-House International in Tampines, Mulberry Learning Academy in Chua Chu Kang, PCS Ang Mo Kio Centre and Bright Kids School House in Lengkok Bahru.

Meanwhile, Pat's Schoolhouse in Serangoon was forced to close for 10 days from last Wednesday, when more than 16 children fell ill there.

Coming at the start of the year, this most recent outbreak is different from previous year's patterns, when HFMD cases usually peak nearer the school holidays, between March and May, and between August and December.

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.

However, a more dangerous strain, EV71, can cause serious illness. In 2008, it was reponsible for the death of a child.

However, the Ministry of Health said that its monitoring of hospitals and clinics do not show this strain to be the cause of the current uptrend.

Parents and caregivers can help to keep up hygiene levels by encouraging children to wash their hands before meals, and not share food and utensils. They should also keep ill children at home to prevent spreading infection.