Doctor seeks to assure public amidst outbreak of contagious disease in children

A local preschooler with some of the signs associated with the Hand, Foot and Mouth disease. (Photo contributed)

By Carlena Knight

A number of preschools and daycare centres on the island have been forced to close temporarily as several cases of the Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease were detected among their charges.

The disease is a mild, contagious viral infection common in young children, and is characterised by sores in the mouth and a rash on the hands and feet. It can be spread through the mucus, saliva, and also through interaction on surfaces touched by children.

However, the Chief Paediatrician at the Mount St John Medical Center (MSJMC), Dr Shivon Belle-Jarvis, assured residents that the department of public health is aware of the matter and that the necessary steps are being taken to alleviate it.

“We want to reassure the public of Antigua and Barbuda that, yes, Hand, Foot and Mouth disease has been noted, has been reported, is existent in some of our preschools. However, the necessary steps have been taken to ensure that any child that has been diagnosed has been sent home.

“We are proud to state that the Public Health Department has been actively visiting the schools for which they have received the reports. We do know some schools have temporarily closed given the concerns,” Dr Belle-Jarvis said.

Meanwhile, reports from the Mount St John Medical Center (MSJMC) indicate that although several cases of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease have been seen at the hospital, no serious complications have been detected among the infected patients.

Dr Belle-Jarvis further revealed that in addition to the cases that have been recorded at MSJMC, the likelihood is that more have presented at the local health centres.

She added: “At the MSJMC, we have seen a few cases, but because of the contagious nature of the disease there is no indication or reason for us to admit the child; we usually send the child home. We only tend to admit those who have complications.”

The paediatrician pointed out that two of the complications of Hand, Foot and Mouth disease were meningitis — an inflammation or infection that affects the lining that surrounds the brain and spinal cord — and encephalitis, which results in swelling and irritation of the brain.

“We have had no complicated cases of Hand, Foot and Mouth disease,” she added.

A sore throat, decreased appetite, fever and irritability, followed by the occurrence of red rashes in the palms of hands and soles of feet, painful sores to the mouth, rashes on the knees and the buttocks are all symptoms of the disease. Parents and guardians are therefore encouraged to seek medical attention if their child or children show signs of Hand, Foot and Mouth disease. Once confirmation is made, the primary caregivers are advised to keep their children at home until all signs of the disease have disappeared.