BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Following an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) in neighbouring Malaysia, which resulted in the death of a toddler in Sarawak, Brunei’s health ministry has issued a public health warning advising parents to keep any infected children at home and away from public places. 

In a statement issued Monday, the Ministry of Health (MoH) said the situation in Brunei is stable, with 297 cases of HFMD recorded the first seven months of 2018 — a sharp decline from the 1,968 cases reported during the same period the previous year.

Sixty-four percent of those affected are children under five, but no deaths from HFMD have been reported in Brunei since 2006.

“HFMD has cyclical trends – last year we saw a spike, followed by a decline this year. Strong surveillance mechanisms by schools and parents also play a role in reducing risk of onward transmission,” a MoH representative told The Scoop.

In Malaysia, more than 35,000 cases of HFMD have been reported across the country, with 419 schools, nurseries and kindergartens shut. No schools or childcare centres in Brunei have been forced to close due to HFMD.

What is HFMD?

HFMD is a viral infection that usually affects children, especially those under five. The virus can be found in an infected person’s nose and throat secretions, blister fluid and feces.

Symptoms include fever, reduced appetite, feeling ill, skin rashes and a sore throat. Mouth sores and ulcers on the tongue, gums and inside the cheeks are also common.

How is it spread?

HFMD can be spread through contact with surfaces contaminated by the virus, or through close contact with an infected person.

Children particularly have a high risk of being infected by the virus, which can lead to serious complications such as encephalitis and dehydration.

How can I prevent my child from getting infected?

The public is advised to maintain good personal hygiene: wash hands with clean water; use hand sanitiser or soap after using the toilet or changing diapers, and before eating or preparing food.

Any surface that is exposed to secretions must also be disinfected, including toys. People are also reminded not to share personal items such as toothbrushes, handkerchiefs, towels, blankets, cups or cutlery.

Parents and guardians should not send any children infected with HFMD to school, and they must avoid public places.

What do I do if I suspect my child has HFMD?

Parents and guardians must bring their children to the closest health centre or hospital if they present symptoms of HFMD. More information can also be obtained through the Darussalam Hotline at 123 or from the ministry’s website