Young Parents team
Two weeks ago, Wendy Phng, 28, noticed red spots on her daughter’s hands and feet, and ulcers in the toddler’s mouth. The property officer said: “She was also running a fever on-and-off. I thought it was chickenpox at first.”
But a visit to the doctor on April 25 confirmed that her daughter had Hand Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD). Wendy suspects that her only child, who is one-and-a-half, caught the virus at a gathering or the playground.
The Ministry of Health said that there were 1,052 cases two weeks ago. Last week, there were 1,022. These are the among the highest figures since October 2013, when 1,247 weekly cases were reported.
“We are at the cusp of an epidemic,” said infectious diseases expert Leong Hoe Nam (above) of Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital. “More than 1,000 cases is really a lot. (The numbers) are going to go up.”
“The kids who were previously infected have moved on from kindergartens and preschools, which means these places are currently filled with kids who are vulnerable to the disease,” he said. “When enough people have had the disease, it builds an immunity within the group – essentially, the virus cannot find a toehold to take root.
“But when the kids are blank slates for the virus, they can take hold and spread very quickly.”
The other reason numbers are likely to go up? “Singaporeans have relaxed their infection control,” said Dr Leong.
HFMD can be caused by different viruses, but EV71 was behind most of the seven deaths during the 2000-2001 outbreak in Singapore.
Dr Leong said: “It’s very contagious. It spreads by objects and droplets (which are microscopic fluid droplets that can fly out from your mouth when you sneeze or even talk).
“So, if an infected person touches an object and another person, without immunity, touches it as well, it is likely that the other person will become infected.”
“But we will overcome (the outbreak),” he added.
The virus currently circulating is not fatal, he said. However, HFMD is still not to be taken lightly. “It varies from child to child, but they need at least a week to recover.”
Related story: 8 things you must know about hand foot mouth disease in kids
SYMPTOMS OF HFMD
Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is a viral infection common among children in Singapore.
Dr Clarence Yeo, 43, a physician at Killiney Family and Wellness Clinic, said: “Children usually first develop a fever, after which they tend to develop ulcers in the mouth and blisters on the hand and feet. The fever usually lasts a couple of days. But the blisters can take up to 10 days to clear.”
Other symptoms include blisters on the buttocks, sore throat, lethargy and poor appetite, as stated on the MOH website.
Although it affects both children and adults, children below five years old are particularly susceptible.
The disease is spread from person to person by direct contact with nasal discharge, saliva, faeces, and fluids from the rash of an infected person.
There is no vaccine available.
Childcare centres and kindergartens across the island, with more than 10 HFMD cases, or with more than 13 per cent of students getting HFMD, and with a transmission period of more than 16 days, are put on a watch list on the MOH website.
When Young Parents checked the MOH website on May 9, five centres were on the list: The Little Skool-house at Kent Vale, Kidz Meadow Childcare & Development Centre (Woodlands), Ascension Kindergarten, PPIS Child Development Centre – Pasir Ris, and Wesley Vineyard Childcare. No centres had been forced to close. MOH updates the list every Wednesday and Friday.
A spokesman for NTUC First Campus, which manages The Little Skool House at Kent Vale, told TNP that “all necessary precautionary measures” are taken to detect and prevent the spread of HFMD on their campuses.
WHAT PRESCHOOLS ARE DOING
TNP also spoke to other childcare centres and kindergartens. They say they are stepping up measures to ensure that the virus doesn’t enter or spread at their centres.
These include increasing the frequency of temperature and “visual” checks and regularly disinfecting shared spaces and surfaces.
Childcare centre Acekidz Group has seen five cases in the last two weeks.
Miss Winnie Tan, 34, a teacher there, said they have started taking temperatures thrice a day instead of the usual twice, and do more thorough checks on the children’s mouths, hands and feet three times daily.
The centre also washes and sanitises all surfaces the children come into contact with.
She said: “We usually do the cleaning twice a week, but we have been doing it every day since our first case (about two weeks ago).”
According to MOH guidelines, children with HFMD should stay at home and away from school until they are clear of the disease.
Operator of His Little Kingdom Childcare and Development Centre, Susie Tan, 49, said her centre sees about two cases a year.
She said: “It’s better to be safe than sorry with all these precious ones. When a child gets HFMD, not only he or she suffers, the parents are affected, and it also causes the teachers and school problems.”
(Photo: File photo/SPH)