Mums and dads, do take note, and be prepared. Researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have warned that we are approaching the peak period of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) in Singapore.
Dr Justin Chu, from NUS's Department of Microbiology and Immunology, has been quoted by Channel NewsAsia as saying, “The hand, foot, mouth disease comes in cycles, so we can see that every two to three years, we will have a big outbreak. This year, we are also coming to the peak period, where the virus will re-emerge and cause an outbreak.”
Dr. Chu predicts that, this year, the number of HFMD cases will exceed the more than 41,000 cases seen last year. So far, there have been more than 17,000 cases of HFMD this year, as of Jul 1.
Vaccine for HFMD?
Dr. Chu also revealed the good news that, NUS researchers are working on vaccines for HFMD. According to Channel NewsAsia, they are close to coming up with multivalent vaccines, which help the body to produce antibodies to fight a combination of viruses.
He tells Channel NewsAsia, “This can be used to vaccinate children against HFMD. They are caused by more than one type of virus, maybe two or three types concurrently."
Singaporeans will also be relieved to know that, apart from HFMD, Dr Chu, who also heads the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology at A*STAR, is also working on tackling two major mosquito borne diseases in the country – dengue and Zika.
So far, only one vaccine against dengue, Dengvaxia, has been approved for use in Singapore. The vaccine has been available since last year, but only administered on request.
Dr. Chu also spoke about the challenges faced in creating vaccines, “To come up with specific antiviral for viruses, you must make sure that it targets the virus and not the human, because you will end up having something that kills off the human cells.”
What to do in case of HFMD
Children with HFMD will have blister-like or pimple-like rash on their hands, feet and buttocks, mouth ulcers and fever. The child may also have a sore throat, runny nose, experience vomiting and diarrhoea, and may feel tired.
It is important to remember that HFMD is a viral infection, so there is no specific treatment, apart from intake of fluids and controlling the fever. Children usually recover within a week's time.
Parents, here is what you need to remember:
- Encourage fluid intake: The blisters in the mouth make eating and swallowing painful for the child, and kill his appetite. So it's all the more important that the child takes as much oral fluids as possible, to prevent dehydration.
Offer small amounts of fluid (about 10 – 30 ml each time) like diluted juices, rice or barley water every half hourly throughout the day.
- Bring your child to the Children’s Emergency if you notice:
1. That the oral intake of fluids is poor, or the child is unable to swallow, or vomits persistently.
2. When the tongue is dry, or when the child has decreased urine output (dehydration).
3. If the child appears lethargic, drowsy or irritable, is crying persistently, or is disorientated.
4. When seizures occur.
5. If there is difficulty in breathing.
6. If the child looks ashen, pale or blue.
7. If the child complains of acute headache or giddiness, or if there is neck stiffness.
- Stay away from school: HFMD is easily spread through direct contact with nose discharge, saliva, faeces and fluid from the blisters. Hence, the infected child should not be allowed to go to school, childcare centres and other crowded places, until he has fully recovered and for at least 1 week after the start of the illness.
- Practise good general hygiene: Wash your hands immediately after contact with the infected child or handling diaper changes, and before handling food. The virus can continue to be shed in stools up to 12 weeks in an infected child so practice good hand hygiene when changing diapers for the infected child.
Prevent other children in the house from contact with toys, books, eating utensils, towels, clothes and other personal items used by the infected child.
- Pregnant women who get HFMD may experience miscarriage, stillbirth or even severe disease in the newborn.
Pregnant women should practise good hand hygiene by washing their hands after each contact with the infected child, and preferably wear a surgical mask when in close contact with the child.