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Japan's hand, foot and mouth patients hit 100,000

Publication Date : 06-08-2013


Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD), which causes rashes to break out on these parts of the body and affects mainly infants, is rampant nationwide this year, with the number of patients exceeding 100,000.

The number of people suffering from the disease is approaching the figure seen in 2011, the highest since the government started keeping count of HFMD patients. A strain of the virus that can cause patients to develop serious symptoms was found in one-quarter of people who had the condition this year.

As the epidemic has yet to peak, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is calling on people to take preventative measures against the disease, such as washing hands thoroughly and not sharing towels with others.

About 90 per cent of HFMD patients are children aged 5 or younger. The main symptoms are lesions measuring two to three millimetres in diameter on mucous membranes inside the mouth, on the palms of the hands and on the soles of the feet.

In some cases, patients are found to have a high fever, and rashes spread to the buttocks, elbows and knees. Though the symptoms are mild in many cases, they could deteriorate into such serious ailments as encephalitis. There are several strains of the HFMD virus.

According to the ministry, reports from about 3,000 pediatrics institutions showed there were 105,936 HFMD cases as of July 21, with more than 25,000 new patients in the week to that date.

The average number of patients with the disease per medical institution was 8.09, about 8.3 times last year’s figure.

By prefecture, the number of patients per medical institution was the highest in Saitama at 18.69; followed by 13.71 in Tokyo; 12.64 in Oita; 12.55 in Yamaguchi; 12 in Yamanashi; 11.55 in Chiba, 11.42 in Hiroshima and 10.07 in Kanagawa.

The Tokyo metropolitan government and the Kanagawa prefectural government have called on residents to be vigilant, after judging that the epidemic has reached a level that merits issuing a warning.

According to an analysis by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, about one-quarter of strains detected in the patients were a variety of EV71, which can cause serious symptoms.

Koji Ishikawa, chief doctor at Tanpopo Kodomo Clinic in Noda, Chiba Prefecture, said nearly 10 patients a day visited the pediatric clinic since the start of July, with many experiencing rashes and high fever.

“The pace of outbreaks is not slowing down as we entered August,” he said.

At Furuishiba Hoikuen, a municipal day-care centre in Koto Ward, Tokyo, which has 118 registered children aged several months to 5 years, staff members teach the children how to carefully wash their hands and frequently clean toys that they put in their mouths.

Miya Kato, a nurse at the facility, said, “As little children are unable to protect themselves on their own, we adults are responsible to protect them [from the disease].”

Can stay in saliva 1 week

HFMD is infectious via airborne saliva of patients or hands that have touched patients’ bodily waste.

Although the HFMD virus’ incubation period is only from three days to five days, it can stay in a patient’s saliva and mucus for about a week, and in feces for up to four weeks.

Care should thus be taken even after a patient’s symptoms have disappeared.

Effective measures to prevent infection include frequently washing hands and using paper towels instead of sharing a towel with others. Hands should be washed carefully after changing baby diapers.

When rashes form inside the mouth due to the disease, eating and drinking can become difficult. As a result, small children can easily become dehydrated, thus requiring frequent intake of liquids for those who show symptoms.

If children with the disease suffer from high fever for two consecutive days or longer, or are showing other signs of the disease such as excitement, there is a risk it could develop into a more serious condition, in which case it is highly advised to visit a hospital.


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