Grand Cayman schools hit by disease outbreak

An outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease that surfaced a few weeks ago is still affecting some schools on Grand Cayman.

The disease is not uncommon on the island and typically affects children under 10 and especially those aged 5 and younger. Children with the virus typically have a fever, sore throat, a red rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, mouth sores and loss of appetite. There is no specific treatment other than to let the illness run its course. The best prevention is practicing good sanitation and hygiene.

Tim McLaughlin, an epidemiologist with the Public Health department, said the 14 cases reported from Feb. 4-10 were the most he has seen in a single week. Figures for last week are not yet available, but Mr. McLaughlin said it looked as though the spread of the disease had slowed down. Most children were out of school last week and that may be a factor, he said

“Fourteen in a week is a lot,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “It also tells me there are more cases out there.”

As a consequence, he said, he is more closely monitoring the spread of the disease, which is not uncommon this time of year. If need be, he said, “We’ll sound the alarm.”

At the Department of Education Services, director Lyneth Monteith said she was unaware of any public schools currently being affected by the disease. But preschools are seeing the problem.

Bri Bergstrom, the owner of the Montessori School of Cayman, said three of her students came down with the illness 3½ weeks ago. It was the first such outbreak at the school, she said, adding that no other students have since been affected.

“It seems to be going around,” Ms. Bergstrom said. “It’s almost impossible to avoid sometimes, things coming into the school.”

She and others operating schools and preschools said that they have increased their efforts to keep classrooms and play areas sanitary by cleaning more often and doing thorough deep cleaning.

“Even when the flu is going around, we always amp up the sanitation,” Ms. Bergstrom said.

At the Treasure Garden, a preschool with 35 students, teacher Tonie-Ann Broomfield said six pupils have contracted the disease over the past two-to-three weeks. Some of the students, she said, showed no outward symptoms, such as a fever, before breaking out in a rash. She said the staff is being more vigilant.

“As soon as we check their temperature and it’s above 100, we call the parents and ask them to take them to the doctor,” Ms. Broomfield said, adding that the child is kept isolated from other children until they are picked up.

She said her own daughter, who attends Tiffany’s Pre-School, got sick with hand, foot and mouth.

Tiffany’s principal Sonia Grant did not want to say how many children at her facility have been affected, although she did say three or four were affected in the initial outbreak. The current number of cases, she said, is not out of line with past outbreaks.

“We’re not alarmed,” Ms. Grant said. “It’s not any more cases than [I’ve seen] before.”

She said it is important that the schools help in keeping parents informed. Some parents she knows, who have children at a different school, became angry when they found out that some students at that school had become ill and they were not informed.

“Parents get alarmed when they are not told,” Ms. Grant said. “We have a pamphlet we got from Public Health, so [parents] know exactly what has been done and what they need to know.”

For more information about hand, foot and mouth, call your local health center: George Town, 244-2648; West Bay, 949-3439; Eastern Districts, 947-2299; and Faith Hospital on Cayman Brac, 948-2242.