SINGAPORE: With weekly Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD) numbers hitting their highest level since June 2016, the Health Ministry (MOH) has “strongly urged” parents not to bring their children to school or any other crowded public places if their children are exhibiting symptoms.
Common symptoms include fever, mouth ulcers and rashes on the palms, soles or buttocks. The ministry's advice comes in the midst of a rise in the number of HFMD cases since February this year.
According to a weekly notice on infectious diseases put up by MOH on its website, numbers peaked at 1,105 cases in the week ending Mar 10. This was a 42 per cent increase from the week before, and a 65 per cent increase from two weeks prior.
Since that peak, the number dropped 14 per cent to 946 in the latest recorded period of Mar 11 to Mar 17. The last time the weekly figures peaked was in 2016, when numbers hit as high as 1,344 in May, before falling to 1,034 the following month.
The number of HFMD cases reported to MOH fluctuates from year to year and throughout the year, an MOH spokesperson told Channel NewsAsia.
Overall figures, however, may be on the downward trend. Preliminary figures showed there were 34,000 cases recorded last year, a 20 per cent drop from 2016 which saw more than 42,000 cases.
HFMD is a viral infection which can affect both adults and children, but children below five years old are more susceptible. In Singapore, 90 per cent of children have had HFMD infection by 12 years of age, MOH said. The common viral infection is generally mild and self-limiting, the spokesperson added.
As children without symptoms can also be infectious, transmission commonly occurs in the community and in areas like playgrounds, malls and schools, she said.
Children infected with HFMD should avoid contact with other children, and articles contaminated by oral or nasal fluids from infected children should be disinfected, MOH said.
COMMUNICATION TO PARENTS KEY
While MOH encourages responsibility on the part of parents, civil servant Steven Chung believes communication to parents by schools is key in helping to prevent the spread of the virus.
In his case, the school attended by his sons, aged three and five, did not inform him of a case of HFMD in February. Instead, he heard from another parent. He then checked with the principal and found out that the child had contracted the disease, recovered and was back in school.
“The next thing we knew, the virus had spread and several other kids from the school also contracted HFMD,” he said.
Despite temporarily withdrawing his children, his younger son was diagnosed with HFMD.
He added that he understands it is not possible to eradicate HFMD at pre-schools. According to a circular seen by Channel NewsAsia, the centre in Kovan was closed for two days this month for disinfection to “break the chain of infection”.
The school did not respond to queries from Channel NewsAsia.
MEASURES TO CONTAIN SPREAD OF HFMD
My First Skool in Fernvale Link, which is on MOH's list of childcare centres with active clusters of prolonged transmission of HFMD, said that it complies with MOH’s standard precautions and is working with parents to manage the outbreak.
At EtonHouse, which has had eight cases across 15 campuses, a strict sanitising protocol is part of its documented policy for before and in the case of an outbreak. Its centres are not on the MOH list.
When there is an outbreak, the HFMD protocol is initiated. Children are checked throughout the day for symptoms, including fever, a spokesperson said.
“All sensory play and community experiences are suspended. The timetable is altered to minimise contact between the rest of the school and the group that is potentially at risk,” she added,
She said that thorough santisation of resources, furniture and play equipment is done on a daily basis along with cold fogging. The affected class is kept quarantined for 10 days, she said.
She also stressed the role of parents in preventing the spread of infection.
“Reinforcing good hygiene practice at home also goes a long way in minimising the spread. The child should be sent to school only when the doctor certifies that it is okay to do so. It is also recommended that the child has no social contact outside of school during the contagious period,” she said.