A blister-like rash on the hands and feet as well as ulcers in the mouth are the main symptoms of HFMD (hand foot mouth disease), and give this infectious disease its name. HFMD is a viral disease that is endemic in Singapore, which means it occurs regularly.

While both children and adults can get HFMD, young children below the age of 5 are most susceptible to it. There are active HFMD clusters across the country, and the Ministry of Health provides regular updates on the affected kindergartens and childcare centres so parents can protect their children.

“HFMD is usually a mild disease and children rarely suffer serious complications from it,” says Associate Professor Chong Chia Yin, Head and Senior Consultant, Department of Paediatrics, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group.

HFMD is caused by the enterovirus family of viruses, most commonly the coxsackie virus. It spreads through direct contact with an infected person’s fluids such as saliva, nasal discharge, faeces or fluid from rash.

Symptoms of HFMD take 3-7 days to show up after infection. The illness usually last for 7 days but the virus can be present in the stools of an infected child for as long as 12 weeks and in the saliva up to 4 weeks. Fever generally lasts up to 5 days.

Symptoms of HFMD include the following:

  • Rash on hands, feet and buttocks (can look like pimples, flat red spots or blisters)
  • Ulcers in the throat or mouth or on the tongue
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

“An infected child should avoid school and crowded places for at least 10 days after the symptoms of HFMD have appeared,” says Assoc Prof Chong.

What to do to protect your child from HFMD

Good personal hygiene is the best way to protect yourself and your child from getting HFMD. You can teach your child the following hygiene practices:

  • Wash hands with soap and water before and after eating and after going to the toilet.
  • Do not share your food, drinks, plate, bowl, glass or cutlery while eating. Do not share towels, toothbrushes or other personal items.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Throw used tissues into the rubbish bin and immediately wash your hands with soap and water.

If there is an outbreak of HFMD in your child’s kindergarten or childcare centre, you can take the following precautionary steps:

  • Monitor your child’s temperature daily.
  • Wash your child’s hands before leaving the childcare centre.
  • Your child should shower, shampoo the hair and change into a clean set of clothes when reaching home.
  • Check daily for mouth ulcers and blisters on the hands and feet of your child.

Consult your family doctor if you notice any symptoms of HFMD.

Ref: R14