The Ministry of Health is reporting “sporadic” outbreaks of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) over the past week and is advising parents, guardians and teachers to take the necessary precautions in an effort to curtail the spread of the viral illness.
HFMD, which should not be confused with foot and mouth disease, which is a disease of animals, is spread by direct contact with nasal and throat secretions or faeces of an infected person. The virus may also be transmitted by coughing, sneezing, and contaminated hands if not washed thoroughly.
Symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease include fever, malaise, sore mouth and the development of a rash. Mouth lesions appear on the inside surfaces of the cheeks, gums and on the sides of the tongue, while raised pink spots particularly on the palms, fingers, soles and occasionally on the buttocks, develop into blisters, and may persist for seven to ten days.
The disease occurs mainly in children under ten years of age, but adult cases are not unusual.
Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Elizabeth Ferdinand is advising parents to keep their children away from school or nursery if they have the illness but said they can resume normal activity before the last blister has disappeared once they are otherwise well.
Noting that complications may occur from the virus infections that cause HFMD, Ferdinand said: “They are not common, but if they do happen medical care should be sought for the child . . . . Over the counter pain relievers such as Panadol and Advil can be given for aches and mouth sores, while fever can be treated with fever-reducing medication.”
The Chief Medical Officer noted that there was no specific treatment for HFMD and antibiotics were usually not necessary, but she advised the use of pain-numbing mouth washes or sprays to lessen mouth pain. Additionally, fluid intake should be adequate for prevention of dehydration, but medical care should be immediately sought if moderate to severe dehydration develops.
The health official stressed that the risk of infection may be lowered by following good hygienic practices including frequent and correct hand washing, especially after changing diapers and using the toilet.
She also recommended cleaning dirty surfaces and soiled items, including toys, first with soap and water and then disinfecting them by cleansing with a solution of chlorine bleach which can be made by adding one tablespoon of bleach to four cups of water.
Dr. Ferdinand further urged nurseries and schools to employ these practices and monitor children to avoid close contact, namely kissing, hugging, sharing eating and drinking utensils with others who have HFMD.