Rise in cases of hand, foot and mouth disease in children especially in NT ECEC services
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Rise in cases of hand, foot and mouth disease in children especially in NT ECEC services

by Freya Lucas

March 16, 2022

Northern Territory residents are being warned to be vigilant about hygiene as cases of hand, foot and mouth disease in children rise, especially in those children who attend early childhood education and care (ECEC) services. 


Around 70 cases had been reported recently from several ECEC services in the Top End region, 

NT Health Centre for Disease Control, Infectious Diseases and General Medicine Dr Kate Proudmore said.


The common viral illness causes small, blister-like lesions on the inside of the mouth, sides of the tongue, hands and feet. The blisters are non-itchy and fluid-filled and can also occur on the buttocks and nappy area.


Other symptoms may include fatigue, loss of energy, poor appetite, a mild fever and a sore throat and mouth. Hand, foot and mouth disease is spread by direct contact with fluid from the blisters, nose and throat secretions from an infected person such as saliva, sputum or mucus, droplets from sneezing or coughing and faeces.


It can affect all age groups, including adults, but is most common in children under the age of ten years.


“Symptoms generally develop three to five days after exposure,” Dr Proudmore said.

“Blisters remain infectious only as long as they contain fluid, but faeces can remain infectious for several weeks.”


Dr Proudmore said blisters and sores in the mouth can make eating and swallowing painful, so babies may feed poorly and children may not want to eat or drink.


“To prevent dehydration, offer children frequent sips of fluids. Children who refuse fluids, have a severe headache or are not improving, should see a doctor,” Dr Proudmore added.


For most people who become infected, the illness is mild and within a week the blisters disappear and they feel better.


“In very rare cases, complications of hand, foot and mouth disease can occur, including meningitis, encephalitis or paralysis,” Dr Proudmore said.


“If an infected person complains of severe headache, stiff neck or weakness, or their fever persists and they are not getting better, they should seek medical advice from a doctor immediately. Hand, foot and mouth disease has very rarely been fatal.”


There is no specific treatment and, for most people, paracetamol to relieve discomfort and fever, extra fluids and rest is all that is required.


“There is no vaccine for hand, foot and mouth disease. The body will develop an immunity to the virus after you have been exposed but, unfortunately, many viruses can cause hand, foot and mouth so you may get it again,” Dr Proudmore explained.


“It is important to allow blisters to dry naturally. Do not pierce blisters, as the fluid within them is infectious. Protect yourself and your loved ones by promoting good hygiene, which is the best way to stop the spread of the virus.”


To reduce the risk and spread of infection:


  • Cover the mouth when sneezing and coughing
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol based hand sanitiser
  • Help children wash their hands. Teach them how to wash their hands and make sure they wash them often
  • Wash toys contaminated with saliva
  • Clean and disinfect all touched surfaces and shared items regularly and don’t forget to clean toys and door knobs 
  • All infected people should stay at home until the blisters have dried up.


Hands should be washed after changing nappies and handling soiled linen, after using the toilet, after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing and before and after caring for someone who is sick.


Hand foot and mouth disease only affects humans, and is not related to the similar sounding ‘foot and mouth’ disease that affects animals. For more information on hand, foot and mouth disease in an ECEC context see here


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