THE number of hand, food and mouth disease (HFMD) cases has fallen by about 40 per cent in the first half of this year, compared to the same period last year. From January to this week, there were 8,229 cases, down from 13,898 in the same period last year, according to figures from the Health Ministry.
This, said doctors, could be due to greater vigilance and awareness. General practitioners, such as Dr S.M. Tan, 45, whose clinic is in Changi, said they have seen fewer cases. She has seen only about half a dozen patients with the contagious disease so far this year, a 20 per cent drop compared to the same time last year. Likewise, Dr Kevin Chua, 37, said he has “definitely seen fewer cases this year”.
Last year, he had one or two HFMD patients a week, but this time round, he sees a handful of them each month. The family physician, who has a clinic in Alexandra Village, said: “Given the number of cases last year, I guess teachers are more vigilant and will err on the side of caution. “More educational materials, regular updates and reminders are also given to parents so they are more aware of the disease’s symptoms and know when to keep their children at home.”
The Health Ministry added that HFMD numbers “may fluctuate depending on various factors, such as immunity levels to the various viruses, increased awareness and reporting of HFMD, and good hygiene practices”. HFMD is usually a mild childhood disease that is endemic here. It is spread via bodily fluids, such as saliva, and is easily transmitted among toddlers. However, it can be fatal when it involves the EV71 strain. This strain, in severe cases, could affect a child’s nervous system, cause encephalitis – which is the swelling of the brain lining – and result in death.
In Singapore, seven children died from HFMD during an outbreak in 2000 to 2001. A three-year-old boy died during another outbreak in 2008. Childcare centre PCF Sparkletots Braddell Heights in Serangoon Avenue 3 reported 22 cases of HFMD from June 30 to July 5 this year. All the cases so far have been mild. The school said it has taken steps to ensure that parents are informed and that the premises are disinfected.
Parent Danny Loo, 39, whose six-year-son son goes to the centre, said: “We have been informed and most parents have been letting their children stay home. “I believe the school will handle the situation well so I am not too worried.”