Thestar : HFM cases rise in Sarawak

HFM cases rise in Sarawak
Wednesday March 8, 2006

KUALA LUMPUR: The hand, foot and mouth (HFM) disease outbreak in Sarawak has reached epidemic levels, said the Government, but it is hopeful the number of cases will drop by next week.

Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said the disease had been medically classified as an epidemic because of the increase in the number of cases within a short time.

The minister, who had directed kindergartens in the state to close until the situation improved, advised parents not to take their children to crowded places like shopping complexes and cinemas.

There is no way of knowing if there are infected people in a crowd. This matter should not be treated lightly, he said here yesterday.

However, he added, the ministry hoped to see the number of cases falling by next week because the incubation period would end within seven days.

The number of cases reached 3,087 by noon yesterday, based on reports from hospitals and clinics across the state. The worst affected areas were Sibu, Kuching and Bintulu.

The number of fatalities from the disease remained at four, with two confirmed to be of the Entrovirus 11 (EV11) strain.

Speaking to reporters in Miri, Dr Chua said the number of cases in Sarawak had initially climbed very fast.

It was an increase of more than 300 cases per day. Now the increase is about 150 to 200 cases daily. So, the infection seems to be declining, he said.

Dr Chua met Deputy Chief Minister and state Disaster Relief Committee chairman Tan Sri Dr George Chan Hong Nam as well as state Health and Medical Services director Dr Yao Sik King and other senior department officers and local leaders to get an overview of the HFM situation.

He said that while the disease was endemic in the country, it seemed to flare up every three years in Sarawak. We are trying to determine why, he added.

While advising parents against taking their children to crowded places, Dr Chua said the following measures were also necessary:

All kindergartens and daycare centres must close, and parents must not send their children there for the next two weeks;

Any child with symptoms of bruises or blisters must be referred to a doctor;

Families must clean up their homes thoroughly, especially the toilets, as well as facilities or items frequently used by children; and

The authorities must clean children’s playgrounds.

Dr Chua said his ministry would issue all clinics and hospitals guidelines on dealing with HFM cases.

Private doctors will be told how to treat the disease and whether they need to refer specific cases to hospitals, he said.

We are also monitoring whether primary schoolchildren have been affected. The disease usually affects those under 10.

Older children can also get infected, but the sickness will be mild and usually there will be no complications.

Dr Chua said Sarawak had experience dealing with HFM, and the state was functioning as the centre for the Asean region in terms of studies and research on the disease.

The minister opened the RM16.5mil new Tudan polyclinic and visited the newly-built psychiatric ward of the Miri Hospital.