Experts say no need for panic over HFMD outbreak

Updated: 2008-05-11 21:42

Multiple epidemic of hand-foot-mouth disease (HFMD) has drawn concerns from the public and governments in several Asian countries, while experts said that the HFMD is a preventable and controllable disease and there is no need for panic.


The HFMD is a common illness of infants and children and characterized by fever, sores in the mouth and a rash with blisters. Viruses from a group called enterovirus cause the disease with coxsackievirus A16 as the most common cause.

The HFMD sometimes is caused by enterovirus 71 (EV71) which is blamed for most of the fatalities in China this year. This virus can lead to viral meningitis and rarely, more serious and fatal diseases, such as encephalitis.

Individual cases and outbreaks of the HFMD occur regularly worldwide, more frequently in summer and early autumn. In the recent decade, major outbreaks of the HFMD attributable to EV71 were reported in South East Asia, such as Malaysia in 1997 and China's Taiwan in 1998.


Although the HFMD is not a notifiable disease in some countries, reports from several countries suggest that the number and severity of the disease this year is higher.

According to a Xinhua tally of local official figures, China has recorded 27,499 HFMD cases so far this year as of Friday, resulting in 34 fatalities.

On Tuesday, the Preventive Medicine Department of Vietnam's Health Ministry said that Vietnam had about 3,000 HFMD cases this year, more than the total number of reported cases in 2007. About 10 to 25 percent of the cases were caused by EV71 and 10 deaths involved the virulent strain.

On Wednesday, Singapore's Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan told The Straits Times that more preschools and childcare centers have been told to close as the city-state reported a 75 percent surge in the HFMD to 10,490 cases so far this year compared with last year.


Although the peak of the HFMD epidemic has yet to come as the high season of the disease is in June and July, many experts noted that there is no need for the public to feel panic about the disease.

The morbidity and mortality of the HFMD does not have an unusual increase in China this year, Zhong Nanshan, a prominent Chinese medical expert, told Xinhua on Saturday when he was attending a meeting in Singapore.

According to Zhong, there are mainly two reasons why some people got a misconception that the morbidity of the HFMD rose sharply in China this year. Firstly, China's Ministry of Health issued a circular on May 2, asking local health authorities and hospitals to notify the HFMD timely, so it is understandable that there is an increase of registered HFMD cases recently.

Secondly, after the SARS epidemic in 2003, the Chinese public's vigilance against contagious diseases was greatly enhanced. Along with the recent nationwide alert in a bid to control the HFMD, more people go to seek medical advice, which led to an increase in the registered cases over previous years.

Zhong noted that the HFMD is a preventable and controllable common illness and the public do not need to panic at it after taking appropriate prevention measures.

On Friday, an official from US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in an interview with Xinhua that the United States once had several HFMD outbreaks and there is no need for panic over the disease if proper prevention measures and treatments are taken.

Most of HFMD cases in the US were caused by coxsackie virus A16 and symptomatic treatment is usually given to provide relief from fever, aches and pain from the mouth ulcers, said Dave Dagul, a CDC press officer for global health affairs.

The risk of enterovirus infections can be lowered by good hygienic practices such as frequent handwashing and avoidance of close contact with HFMD patients, he said.

Talking about China's HFMD situation, Hans Troedsson, the World Health Organization's representative to China, said recently that although it was too early to say whether the worst had passed with the disease's peak months looming, the latest figures suggested new infections were slowing.

"I don't think there will be a non-controlled epidemic," said the WHO official.

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