The Hong Kong Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health today (May 14) called on the public to maintain vigilance against hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) and enterovirus 71 (EV71) infection, as the latest surveillance data shows that Hong Kong is entering the peak season for both.

Hong Kong/CIA
Hong Kong/CIA

“The CHP recorded an increasing number of institutional outbreaks of HFMD in the recent two weeks. There were nine and 10 institutional HFMD outbreaks in the week ending May 9 and the first four days (May 10-13) of this week respectively as compared with between zero and four outbreaks per week in previous months.”

As for EV71 infection in 2015, the CHP recorded 18 cases as of May 15, among which one patient developed a severe complication. Fifteen of the cases were recorded in recent four weeks.

“The summer peak season for HFMD and EV71 is usually from May to July. The local activity is expected to increase in the next few weeks.

“HFMD activity in neighboring areas has also increased. According to the number of cases of HFMD, Guangdong has entered into the peak season of the disease since early May. In Taiwan, the latest information shows that it is entering into the peak season of HFMD as  disease activity has been increasing in recent four weeks,” the spokesman added.

The CHP has sent letters to childcare centres, kindergartens and primary and secondary schools alerting them to the current situation regarding HFMD and EV71 infections, providing advice on prevention and control, and reminding them to report suspected HFMD outbreaks in their institutions to CHP.

HFMD is typically a benign and self-limiting disease. Most common in young children, it presents as fever, oral lesions and rash on the hands, feet and buttocks. The oral lesions consist of rapidly-ulcerating vesicles on the buccal mucosa, tongue, palate and gums. The rash consists of papulovesicular lesions on the palms, fingers and soles, which generally persist for seven to 10 days, and maculopapular lesions on the buttocks.

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is caused by viruses that belong to the Enterovirus genus (group). This group of viruses includes polioviruses, coxsackieviruses, echoviruses, and enteroviruses.

  • Coxsackievirus A16 is the most common cause of hand, foot, and mouth disease in the United States, but other coxsackieviruses have been associated with the illness.
  • Enterovirus 71 has also been associated with hand, foot, and mouth disease and outbreaks of this disease.

EV-71 has been implicated in HFMD outbreaks in Southeast Asia over the several years. EV 71 is a non-polio enterovirus.

Complications associated with HFMD caused by the more pathogenic EV-71 strain include encephalitis, aseptic meningitis, acute flaccid paralysis, pulmonary edema or hemorrhage and myocarditis. Most deaths in HFMD occur as a result of pulmonary edema or hemorrhage.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no vaccine toprotect againstthe viruses that cause hand, foot, and mouth disease.

A person can lower their risk of being infected by

  • Washing hands often with soap and water, especially after changing diapers and using the toilet.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and soiled items, including toys.
  • Avoiding close contact such as kissing, hugging, or sharing eating utensils or cups with people with hand, foot, and mouth disease.