The Ministry of Health and the media has reported a surge in the number of HFMD (Hand Food and Mouth Disease) cases and is still expecting a record number of patients to be infected by this virus. We speak Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases specialist, to pick up tips on how to prevent our child from getting infected by this dreaded virus.
HFMD – Four simple letters that have been proven to strike fear in the hearts of parents in Singapore. Even if you’re not the type to worry, maybe it’s time to start.
The Straits Times has reported a surge in the number of cases of HFMD and is still expecting a record number of patients to be infected by this virus.
As of August 2016, there are 25,327 cases recorded by the Ministry of Health (MOH), an increase of about 50% compared to the 16,626 recorded for the same period last year. Although the strain of the virus spreading this time round is generally non-lethal, there has been an increase in the number of patients hospitalised due to high fever, dehydration and febrile fits.
As a parent, I can’t help but think of the major inconveniences the HFMD virus causes, starting from the two-week quarantine period, trying to stop the sick and whiny child from scratching the blistering and infected rashes, coaxing them to eat soft foods and some liquids to prevent dehydration (not an easy feat if they have ulcers in the mouth and throat) and, that’s not even considering the cleaning, scrubbing and disinfecting of everything that they touch, so that no one else in the household will get infected.
With no treatment or medication to speak off, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a bubble we can keep our kids in to keep the virus at bay, but until such a device is invented, understanding how it is transmitted and taking precautionary measures is probably the next best option.
We spoke to Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases specialist with over 20 years of infectious disease expert experience from Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, to pick up tips on preventing children and adults from getting infected by the HFMD virus.
Is HFMD a new virus?
Dr Leong: HFMD has always been around but not many people knew about it previously because there was not much attention from the media. In 1998, there was an outbreak of HFMD in Taiwan which eventually led to a dangerous form of the virus EV71 being brought to Singapore. EV 71 behaves like any other HFMD viruses except that it kills in a small proportion of young children.
How does it spread?
Dr Leong: The HFMD virus largely spreads through contact with body discharge from an infected person ( i.e. saliva, fluids from a rash, nasal discharge etc.). It also remains on the surface of an object, for e.g. on a toy or on someone’s hands etc. Unlike other viruses, it is very difficult to get rid off HFMD viruses and even cleaning with alcohol-based cleansers may not do the job.
Why is hand washing important? How does cleansing our hands prevent germs from spreading?
Dr Leong: An appropriate antiseptic cleanser can kill the virus and minimise its spread. The more an individual is exposed (touched) to the virus, the worse disease the individual develops. In other words, the severity of the illness is proportional to the amount of virus transmitted. The only way of breaking this chain is with hand hygiene and a good sanitizer. However, the HFMD virus is a more resistant type of virus that is harder to remove and kill. Ordinary alcohol sanitizers are insufficient.
Parents should use effective antiseptic cleansers. Hand sanitizers with povidone-iodine also marketed as BETADINE® are proven to be effective against the HFMD virus when combined with the proper handwashing techniques. This involves the seven simple steps of handwashing.