Health

All hands on deck to prevent HFMD

With good hygiene, you can protect your child from the disease

The dreaded call any parent can get from a childcare centre is when hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) has afflicted the child, and mum or dad has to pick him up as quickly as possible.

The process of taking leave from work and anticipating the recovery of your little one may cause much inconvenience.

So it is always better to keep this disease at bay.

According to the infectious disease statistics from the Ministry of Health (MOH), there has been an increasing number of HFMD cases reported between July and August this year.

SingHealth Polyclinics (SHP) sees the importance of empowering the public to be aware of the care and preventive measures for this disease.

HFMD usually affects children younger than five, but adults can also be infected.

It is an infection caused by a family of viruses called enteroviruses.

There are many strains, which explains why a child or an adult can get infected more than once.

It can be easily transmitted through direct contact with nose and throat secretions, fluid from blisters and faecal matter.

Dr Haidee Ngu, a family physician of SHP-Bukit Merah, said: "We must be vigilant in monitoring symptoms of HFMD.

"Typical symptoms include fever, mouth ulcers, bubbles or blister-like rashes on palms, elbows, knees, buttocks or soles of feet. Some children may also have a runny nose, nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea.

"These symptoms typically subside within a week and can be managed by your (general practitioner) or polyclinic doctor. However, some people, especially adults, may get infected without symptoms and pass the virus to others.

"Pregnant women who contract HFMD may experience miscarriage or stillbirth.

"Very rarely, an infected person can develop brain inflammation, which can be fatal. If you are unsure, it is always best to seek early medical attention. Early diagnosis can also help to contain the spread of this disease."

How do you take care of a child who has HFMD?

There is no specific treatment for HFMD.

However, your doctor can prescribe medication to control the fever and relieve the pain caused by mouth ulcers.

If there are ulcers, your child may refuse food and drinks. You can help your child to stay hydrated by offering 10ml to 30ml of diluted juices, barley water or iced popsicles every half hour throughout the day. Changing to a soft diet will also help if eating causes pain.

Generally, a person with HFMD is most contagious during the first week of the illness. To prevent the spread of the infection, please keep your child at home until all the blisters have dried up, or as advised by your doctor.

How do you prevent the transmission of HFMD?

Good hand hygiene is the key to prevention. Wash your hands before preparing food. Wash your hands after contact with your child or after handling diapers.

Prevent other children from coming into contact with personal items such as toys, books, utensils, towels and toothbrushes used by the infected child or adult.

Avoid close contact such as kissing and hugging. Clean any dirty surfaces and soiled items (like clothes and toys) with soap and water and then disinfect them.

If your child has a cough and runny nose, it is advisable to wear a surgical mask when in close contact (less than 90cm). HFMD is not transmitted to or from pets or other animals.

When is it considered an emergency case?

If your child exhibits the following symptoms, you will need to take him to the children's emergency department:

  • Poor oral intake or persistent vomiting
  • Reduced number of wet diapers or urine output
  • Lethargy, drowsiness or irritability
  • Headache, stiff neck or back pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Looks pale or blue

The MOH provides weekly updates on the HFMD situation for parents to find out specific childcare centres or kindergartens with prolonged HFMD transmission.

MEDICAL & HEALTH