Nineteen students at West End Primary School in Cayman Brac have been diagnosed with hand, foot and mouth disease, according to the Department of Education Services.
The school was closed Wednesday and will remain closed until Monday so that the building can be sanitized.
Hand, foot and mouth disease is a common viral illness that causes fever, painful sores on the mouth, and a skin rash that may blister on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and sometimes on other parts of the body, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
West End Primary School Principal April Tibbetts sent a letter to parents Tuesday informing them of the outbreak and school closure.
“The student body has been heavily affected by the hand, foot, and mouth disease and we want to ensure our environment is treated to curb/prevent further spreading,” Ms. Tibbetts said in the letter. “It is unknown how long this process will take.”
The school will reopen on Monday, Oct. 5, according to a statement issued by the government Wednesday.
“The Public Health Department was called in to assist with the outbreak and has advised that the school should be completely sanitized,” the statement said, adding that in order to facilitate this process, the school will be closed for the remainder of the week.
According to the statement, there are no known cases of the illness at Creek and Spot Bay Primary School, the other primary school in Cayman Brac.
The statement encourages parents to seek medical attention for children who present symptoms, and to keep them home until they recover, to minimize spreading the virus.
“It’s very contagious, so we do advise parents not to send their kid to school or day care if they’ve been diagnosed,” said Dr. Christine Chen, a pediatrician in Grand Cayman.
The virus is found in nose and throat secretions, such as saliva or nasal mucus, fluid in blisters and feces. It is spread through person-to-person contact, through the air when someone coughs or sneezes, or via contact with contaminated objects and surfaces.
Dr. Chen said the virus is very common.
“We have outbreaks here every year,” Dr. Chen said. “Every year I see it, which means I’m going to see it here soon.”
The virus typically affects young children, but sometimes affects adults as well. Adults with the virus will experience cold or flu-like symptoms, but do not usually have a rash like affected children, according to Dr. Chen.
Since hand, foot, and mouth disease is a virus, antibiotics are not required for treatment.
“Just give it time to run its course,” Dr. Chen said.
Symptoms last for about a week.
Physicians recommend treating the symptoms of the virus, taking Tylenol or similar medicines for fever and pain.
Dehydration is sometimes associated with the virus, as patients may not be drinking enough fluids due to pain in the throat, so rehydration is also recommended.
Dr. Dirk Belfonte, another pediatrician in Grand Cayman, recommends that parents give children affected by the virus cool beverages, Popsicles or cold milk, as hot items will exacerbate pain in the throat. He agreed with Dr. Chen that the virus is common in Cayman.
Other schools in the region have reported outbreaks of the virus recently. On Wednesday, the Jamaica Observer reported that cases of the virus had been reported in 27 schools in Jamaica.