Urgent health alert for at least 15 childcare centres

·2-min read

At least 15 childcare centres in far north Queensland have been hit by an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD).

Since the start of this year, 60 people have presented at Cairns Hospital's emergency department with the viral infection, with nine people admitted.

Tropical Public Health Services Cairns public health medical officer, Dr Annie Preston-Thomas, said her team is aware of at least 15 daycare centres affected across the Cairns and Tablelands regions since January.

“HFMD is a viral illness common in children,” she said.

Cairns Hospital is pictured.
Cairns Hospital has seen an uplift in presentations for hand, foot and mouth disease. Source: AAP

“We are currently investigating why and how this virus is circulating in our region, but it is commonly linked to warm weather.

“There is a rising global incidence of HFMD, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

“We usually see a small number of cases during our hotter parts of the year, but this year has been especially severe.”

What is hand, foot and mouth disease?

HFMD is usually mild and occurs mainly in young children, but can also be seen in older children and adults.

It causes a rash or blisters on the hands and feet as well as in or around the mouth.

Dr Preston-Thomas said beginning symptoms usually include a mild fever and runny nose.

“This is followed by a sore throat and mouth, with the appearance of blisters in the mouth, and on hands and feet,” she said.

“Sometimes blisters may also be seen on knees, elbows or in the nappy area.

“The blisters usually last for 3-5 days."

Student in front of a poster displaying anti hand, foot and mouth disease (HMFD) symptoms. Source: Getty
A Thai student walks past a poster displayed as part of an anti hand, foot and mouth disease (HMFD) campaign. Source: Getty

It is most commonly caused by the coxsackie virus and mainly spreads through contact with fluid from inside the blisters, or via droplets from sneezing and coughing.

In rare cases, people sick with HFMD can go on to develop meningitis, inflammation of the brain lining, or encephalitis, inflammation of the brain.

“Any person with consistent symptoms should not attend day care or school until they are symptom-free, and all blisters have completely dried,” Dr Preston-Thomas said.

If any of the symptoms present, children should immediately be seen by a doctor.

With Yahoo News Staff and AAP

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