The Cayman Islands Health Services Authority is increasing its efforts to control an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease that has surfaced in recent weeks.
Tim McLaughlin-Munroe, an epidemiologist with the Public Health Department, said there have been 60 reported cases of the disease this year, the highest number in 10 years. Figures for the last three years ranged from four to 25 cases in the same time period.
Mr. McLaughlin-Munroe said the current rise in cases does not seem to have peaked yet.
“The numbers seem to be going up,” he said.
The highly contagious viral disease is most common in children under 10, although older children and adults can get the disease. Typical symptoms are a fever and a rash or sores in the mouth and on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
A number of preschools on the island have reported cases of the disease in the past few weeks.
On Friday, Feb. 23, the Health Services Authority’s pediatric unit, along with the Public Health Department and laboratory workers held an informational session at the Cayman Islands Hospital. They discussed a coordinated approach for containing the current outbreak.
The timing of the outbreak is abnormal, Dr. Earl Robinson, head of pediatrics for the Health Services Authority, said in a news release.
“The infection most often occurs in the summer and fall months, so it is a bit unusual that we are seeing this outbreak in the winter time,” Mr. Robinson said. “The virus is very contagious, which is why it is very important that people take the necessary precautions and consistently use hygienic measures to reduce the risk of contracting and transmitting diseases.”
There is no vaccine to protect against the viruses that cause hand, foot and mouth disease, and no specific treatment for the illness. Treatment is mainly supportive. Outbreaks of the disease may occur particularly in child care settings and preschools.
Parents whose children are infected are asked to keep them at home to reduce further spread of the virus. Children may return to school after blisters have dried up and there are no new blisters, and if there has been no fever for at least 24 hours.
Health Services Authority officials said they are working closely with schools to help contain the spread of the virus.
For further information, contact the Public Health Department on 244-2621.
Hand, foot and mouth disease is a viral infection that causes a blister-like rash involving the hands, feet and mouth. The infection occurs most commonly in children under 10 years of age and most often in the summer and fall months in temperate countries, and the rainy season in tropical countries. Outbreaks may occur in child care settings and preschools.
The symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease include a low-grade fever that may last one to two days, runny nose and/or sore throat. A blister-like rash occurs in the mouth, on the sides of the tongue, inside the cheeks, on the palate and on the gums. These sores may last seven to 10 days. A blister-like rash may also occur on the palms and fingers of the hands and on the soles of the feet.
The virus is shed in the stool of an infected person and is also present in droplets that are expelled from the nose and mouth of an infected person during sneezing, drooling and coughing. A person becomes infected through direct contact with the skin lesions or stool, or touching contaminated objects such as toys.
It usually takes three to seven days after exposure for symptoms to begin.
The virus may be shed for several weeks in stool. Infected individuals who may not seem sick are able to spread the virus.
Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm running water after using the bathroom, after changing diapers, after handling anything soiled with stool, and after contact with secretions from the nose or mouth. Thorough hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Parents/guardians and child care staff should closely monitor hand washing of all children after children have used the bathroom or have been diapered.
Clean and disinfect diaper areas and potty chairs after each use, and bathroom toilets, sinks, and toys at least daily and when soiled.
Cover nose and mouth with tissue when coughing and sneezing, or cough/sneeze into sleeve. Dispose of used tissues.