KINGSTON –– Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites is advising schools where children are affected by the hand, foot and mouth disease that it would be best if they remained closed until the children had recovered.
“We are talking about infant schools and basic schools; there are 2,600 of them in Jamaica. Our reports from SERHA (South East Regional Health Authority) is that there is an outbreak in nine of those schools; so it needs to be put in that perspective,” said Thwaites late yesterday. “What we do know is that it is very contagious and wherever there is an outbreak, the school would be better to suspend classes until the children are better.”
The painful hand, foot and mouth disease which causes fever and blisters on the tongue, cheek and skin, has been found among children in nine schools across the Corporate Area and St Catherine, forcing the closure of at least two of them.
“The Health Department in the respective parishes has been working closely with the schools to minimize the spread of the disease. The schools have also been given guidelines for the management of hand, foot and mouth disease, and public health inspectors have been deployed to the schools to assess the situations,” noted Tanisha Lewis, public relations officer at SERHA, which is responsible for health facilities in the parishes
Yesterday, Chief Education Officer Grace McLean said the Ministry Of Education was still investigating the matter, but declined to name the schools affected. The Gleaner learned, however, that the Bridgeport Infants and Reliance Basic schools, located metres apart in Portmore, St Catherine, had been closed due to the outbreak.
“I have 48 children at my school and there are 12 reported cases that I am aware of,” said a concerned Judith Royal Gardner, principal of Reliance Basic, who said for the past two weeks, parents had been turning up to school complaining that their children were falling ill.
She said that while they all complained of rashes and fevers, the parents reported various diagnoses from private doctors, including scabies.
“When the health inspectors came [last] Thursday, they told us that it is the hand, foot and mouth disease. She said that my school was the first one in Portmore and that it had to be closed down as a result of the outbreak. They gave us until Monday, October 5, but that is if we meet certain requirements,” she said, listing the acquisition of a backup water tank as the most important target.
She said that the school was cleaned and sprayed with pesticides yesterday and that a water tank had been identified for the school.
“I am doing my very best, making sure that all the requirements that have been outlined by the health inspectors are put in place,” said Gardner.
Principal of the Bridgeport Infant School, Marcia Parrish, however, denied reports there was an outbreak of the disease at her institution when contacted yesterday, noting that of 22 students who had fallen ill, only two had displayed symptoms fitting the disease.
“No Ministry of Health official has yet confirmed that there is an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease at Bridgeport Infant. We do everything in our power to make
the environment safe for our children,” said Parrish, who confirmed there were 20 cases of visible skin rash.
“Some of these students visited their doctors and none of the medical reports I have seen suggested anything about the disease,” said the principal, noting that of the two students, one was diagnosed by a doctor and the other by a mother, who is a nurse. School administration suggested the closure to facilitate tests by the health department, she said. The school has some 304 students enrolled.
Yesterday, the mother an affected student was fearful her four-year-old child would be labelled as being the origin of the outbreak at the school and declined to be named.
Private doctors, she said, had diagnosed her child with scabies, a different skin infection caused by a microscopic bug. He is being treated for that, she said, and is recovering well.
“I was upset when he fell sick. I thought that it was something to kill him, but when I checked it out, it was not that serious. I took him to the doctor and got some medication and his skin has been clearing up. He is good to go back to school,” she said.
Yesterday, Grace McLean outlined that children usually became infected with the virus from other children from exposure to oral secretion –– nasal discharge, saliva –– or stool. The disease typically occurs in small epidemics in nursery schools or kindergartens, usually during the summer and autumn months, the chief education officer noted.