with Paediatrician Dr Florence Bakon

How did the disease first start?

Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease (HFMD) is a common illness in children caused by a virus known as Enterovirus. It typically starts with fever and the child looking unwell, followed a few days later by red spots / rashes / blisters on the hands and legs, along with mouth ulcer. Rashes may also appear around the buttocks and groin. The disease typically lasts between seven and 10 days. Adults may get infected with the disease, but usually less severe than children.

HFMD was first described in the 1950s in New Zealand, and has since become a common childhood illness globally. Sometimes we witness an outbreak of the disease. The largest outbreak occurred in Asia from 1997 to 1998, especially in Sarawak.

HFMD spreads from person to person by direct contact with nasal discharge, saliva, faeces and fluids from the rashes of an infected person. It takes three to five days for a person to show symptoms after being exposed to the virus. For prevention, avoid sending a child with HFMD to the nursery or public places for about two weeks, and practice good hygiene.

Since the first outbreak in Malaysia, specifically Sarawak in 1997, there has been a close surveillance on the disease. Any confirmed/suspected case is to be reported to the Health Ministry. Statistics suggest that there are about several thousand HFMD cases recorded every month throughout the country. When these statistics/number of cases are higher than usual, the Health Ministry would instruct all health personnel to step up their monitoring efforts and preventive measures.

At the moment, there is no vaccine that can prevent HFMD or eradicate the virus altogether. Our children will still be vulnerable to HFMD infection. Looking at the pattern, we can see that there is a possible outbreak of the disease within the next few years, when the number of children getting infected grows at a much higher rate than usual.

One of few life-threatening risks as a result of HFMD, although rare, involves the heart muscle, causing heart complication. Another severe complication as a result of HFMD affects the brain. The most common complications is a child’s inability to eat or drink, leading to dehydration. If a child has symptoms of HFMD, i.e. fever, rashes on the palm of the hand, legs or mouth, consult a medical specialist or take the child for a check-up to make sure he or she is in a stable condition, not dehydrated or has a fever that is under control.

(A Member of KPJ Healthcare Berhad Group)