Mystery illness identified
The Ministry of Health has received laboratory confirmation from an Australia laboratory of a virus that causes hand, foot and mouth disease in samples received from Fiji. Hand, foot and mouth were suspected after children presented to clinics in the Suva area with symptoms early this month. These symptoms include a slight fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, blisters in the mouth and on the hands and feet and a sore mouth for a few days before the ulcers or blisters appear. Affected young children may refuse to eat or drink.
There are a few viruses that can cause hand, foot and mouth disease in humans and they are not the same viruses that cause foot (hoof) and mouth in animals. The virus identified from the laboratory results is Coxsackie virus A6 which typically causes a mild illness with nearly all patients recovering in 7–10 days without medical treatment. So far almost all children seen in these Suva clinics were sent home with treatment.
Infection is spread from person to person by direct contact with the infectious virus. Infectious virus is found in the nose and throat secretions, saliva, blister fluid, and stool of infected persons. The virus is most often spread by persons with unwashed, virus-contaminated hands and by contact with virus-contaminated surfaces. Infected persons are most contagious during the first week of the illness.
The viruses that cause HFMD can remain in the body for weeks after a patient's symptoms have gone away. This means that the infected person can still pass the infection to other people even though he/she appears well. Also, some persons who are infected and excreting the virus, including most adults, may have no symptoms.
There is no specific treatment for HFMD and paracetamol may be given to provide relief from pain from mouth sores and from fever and aches. Affected children who may appear fatigued and have poor appetite should be encouraged to take plenty fluids to prevent dehydration (lack of body fluids).
There is no vaccine to protect against HFMD. However, the risk of getting the disease can be reduced by
- Frequently washing hands with soap and water, especially after diaper changes;
- Thoroughly cleaning objects and surfaces (toys, doorknobs, etc.) that may be contaminated.
- Avoiding close contact (like kissing and hugging) with people who are infected.
- Keep the affected child away from other children until the sores are completely healed.
Outbreaks of hand, foot and mouth disease are common in Asian countries such as China, Taiwan, and Korea and sometimes reported in Australia.