Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) outbreaks in cattle have affected children in Asia in recent months, says the World Health Organization (WHO). The disease is usually not life threatening and can be cured within 7 to 10 days without complications.
The hardest hit has been China with more than 1.2 million cases and over 350 deaths. Medical authorities in Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam have all reported cases mostly among children under the 10 years of age, said The Voice of America in an article on Thursday.
“We are seeing slightly high number of cases this year than has been the average in the past [in Thailand],” Dr. Brent Burkholder, the World Health Organization's acting country representative in Thailand told VOA. "But we’re also seeing that in other countries in Southeast Asia. Singapore, Vietnam, and others have also reported that they are seeing more cases a bit higher than previously. So it’s not quite clear yet exactly why this might be. Sometimes it’s just increased reporting and sometimes it’s the cyclical nature of the viruses.”
Cambodia earlier this month reported up to 60 children dying from a "mysterious" disease. Cambodia’s Ministry of Public Health and the WHO later issued a joint statement confirming hand, foot, and mouth disease claimed the lives of 54 children, said VOA.
Researchers believe that poor treatment is not the only reason for the virus’ increased lethality.
“These are viruses that pretty much circulate. These are viruses primarily. Kids pick them up,” said Vit Suwanvanichkij, a research associate with the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Most of the time its really non-specific viral illness with a fever, may be some diarrhea, gastrointestinal bug and it goes away. [But] this year might have more attention to it because probably it’s more severe - it’s more concerning. ”
Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health has reported over 13,160 cases this year, the highest rate in over five years. In 2011, there were 18,000 cases for the whole year and six deaths. So far, one Thai child has died. Authorities said some 60 schools across the country have reported outbreaks and some schools have been closed to halt the spread.
Medical authorities said the virus would probably remain active at least for another several weeks before the latest outbreaks across the region subside.
Authorities say HFMD usually begins with low grade fever and general tiredness. The throat feels sore and painful. Tiny red spots, like a rash then appear on the inside of the mouth (on the tongue, gums and cheeks), palms of the hands, fingers, soles of the feet, toes or buttocks. Children and adolescents are most commonly affected; infection is rare in adults. Chances of infection are high in the summer and early fall. Anywhere that groups of children interact, like daycare centers, parks and nursery schools are potential grounds for infection.
HFMD is moderately infectious. It can spread from one person to another through direct contact with discharge from the nose and throat, saliva, infected stools, or fluid from a blister.
Most people who develop the illness recover in 7 to 10 days with a minimum or no medical intervention.
There is no specific treatment for HFMD. Medication may be given for relief from symptoms like fever and aches. Symptomatic relief may be given by both acetaminophen, a fever reducer, and topical anesthetics to minimize pain due to ulcers.
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