Australian research provides new hope for treatment of Hand, Foot and Mouth disease
Hand, foot and mouth (HFM) disease is familiar to the Australian early childhood education and care (ECEC) community, with the common viral infection most commonly presenting in children aged ten years and under. New research could lead to treatment for early stages of the virus.
HFM is usually spread by person to person contact, with the virus spreading via a hand contaminated by faeces, by secretions from the mouth or respiratory system, and by direct contact with fluid from HFM blisters.
It usually takes three to five days after contact with an infected person for blisters to appear, and the virus remains live in faeces for several weeks, making an outbreak of HFM in an ECEC context particularly challenging to contain.
In severe cases, HFM can lead to meningitis, encephalitis, polio-like paralysis, and even death. There are currently no drugs on the market to effectively treat HFM.
A group of researchers from Queensland’s Griffith University have recently discovered “potent small molecules” which block the early stages of HFM infection, opening up the potential for “novel drugs for treatment” and perhaps spelling an end to HFM outbreaks in ECEC settings.
The core finding of the research centres on Enterovirus 71 (EV71) – a large family of viruses that is a major cause of HFM. Although EV71 can infect both children and adults, it is most commonly observed in children under five years of age, with those aged under two years at higher risk of developing a severe EV71 infection.
“We are hopeful that the findings of this research project will lead to an effective treatment to fight HFM in its very early stages, and in turn offer peace of mind to millions of people around the world, especially concerned parents,” Professor von Itzstein said.
EV71 has caused outbreaks of HFMD worldwide and has been increasingly prevalent across the Asia-Pacific region, where it has become a major public health issue. In China alone, there were some 9 million cases of HFM reported between 2008 and 2013, with nearly 2,500 confirmed deaths. More recent findings report that between 1 and 31 July 2018, a total of 377,629 cases of HFM and four deaths were reported in China, which is a 27 per cent increase from the same period in 2017.
In Australia significant outbreaks have been reported in major Australian cities over the past three years with childcare centres and kindergartens being at higher risk.
“The increasing incidence of HFM outbreaks, and the potential for severe complications, is now driving antiviral drug discovery research to combat enterovirus A infection, in particular EV71,” said Dr Chih-Wei Chang, lead chemist and joint senior author on the study.
To learn more, or to read the study in full, please see here.