Date
14 December 2018
Recent research shows that nearly 90 percent of Hong Kong children do not know how to properly wash their hands. Photo: Reuters
Recent research shows that nearly 90 percent of Hong Kong children do not know how to properly wash their hands. Photo: Reuters

How to prevent hand-foot-and-mouth disease

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD) is a viral infection most common in children and occasionally in adults. It is typically caused by coxsackievirus and enterovirus 71.

According to the Centre for Health Protection, 419 cases of HFMD were reported in schools in 2017. Among the 2,156 patients, some developed with serious complications such as viral meningitis, encephalitis, poliomyelitis or other fatal symptoms.

The incubation period of HFMD is three to seven days. Symptoms are usually as mild as fever, fatigue, sore throat and loss of appetite. Blisters and ulcers may develop on hands, feet, and mouth after one or two days of fever. The spots are rarely itchy and will resolve on their own seven to 10 days later.

Dizziness and feebleness indicate the worsening of HFMD, in which parents should take their children to the doctor as soon as possible.

There is no specific treatment but only medications such as antipyretic and painkiller to relieve the symptoms of HFMD. Patients are advised to drink more water and take enough rest for quicker recovery.

Transmission of HFMD viruses includes close personal contact with infected individuals’ nose and throat secretions, blisters or feces. There are currently no vaccines to prevent HFMD. That said, maintaining good personal and environmental hygiene is crucial.

A recent research done by the Centre for Health Education and Health Promotion of the Chinese University of Hong Kong shows that nearly 90 percent of Hong Kong children do not know how to properly wash their hands, which greatly increases the likelihood of spreading germs.

The Department of Health has issued guidelines on proper hand hygiene: wet hands with water, apply hand soap, lather and follow the “seven steps”.

Step 1: Rub both palms. Step 2: Rub the back of hands. Step 3: Rub between fingers. Step 4: Interlock your fingers and rub the back of fingers. Step 5: Rub your fingertips against your palms. Step 6: Wrap your thumbs with your palms and rub against them. Step 7: Wrap your wrists with your palms and rub rotationally.

Finally, rinse with water and dry with a clean towel. The whole process should take up about 20 seconds.

The usual peak season of HFMD is from early summer to autumn, with a smaller winter peak. To prevent HFMD infection, citizens should observe good personal hygiene. Cover the mouth and nose while sneezing and coughing and wash your hands thoroughly to lower the risk of infection.

Winnie Kwan Siu-kuen is the co-author of this article that appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 23.

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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JC/BN/CG

Professional consultant at the Nethersole School of Nursing, Faculty of Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

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