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Hand, foot and mouth disease spreads to 27 schools

Published:Tuesday | September 29, 2015 | 5:24 PMLivern Barrett
A parent shows the feet of her child, who was diagnosed with the disease.

THE OUTBREAK of hand, foot and mouth disease has now spread to 27 early childhood institutions across four parishes, even as health officials and medical experts urge parents not to panic.

St Thomas became the latest parish affected by the outbreak, with the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA) reporting that the disease has been detected in seven schools there.

SERHA also revealed yesterday that the number of schools in St Catherine with confirmed cases of the disease has jumped from the six reported on Monday to 14 as of late yesterday, while the number of schools affected in Kingston and St Andrew has jumped from three to six over the same period.

Yesterday, the health ministry tried to downplay the spread of the disease, even while cautioning that it could start affecting children at the primary-school level.

Director of Health Promotions and Protection Dr Sonia Copeland revealed that health authorities in St Catherine are investigating one report that the disease has been detected in a primary school.

"We won't be surprised if we start seeing it in primary-age students as well because, as you know, in a household, we have children going to different schools," Copeland said on the Power106 call-in programme 'Cliff Hughes On-Line'.

President of the Jamaica Medical Doctors' Association (JMDA) Dr Alfred Dawes acknowledged that there has been "a little bit of panic" among a small number of concerned parents who are turning up at health centres with their children; however, Dawes echoed an appeal by health officials for parents to remain calm, pointing out that the disease is almost harmless.


"There is no need to panic because it's limited in terms of the number of schools involved, and the disease is relatively benign," he said.

"[The disease] is self-limiting ... . It runs off a short course, and only in very rare instances, you might have meningitis or an infection of the brain developing. It is nothing to cause a stampede on the hospitals," the JMDA head insisted.

According to the health ministry, hand, foot and mouth disease is an illness common in infants and children with symptoms of fever, blister-like eruptions on the tongue, cheek and skin, along with poor appetite and sore throat.

It can be spread through direct contact with mucus in the throat and nose as well as saliva and fluid from the blister of an infected person.

Copeland explained that the disease has always been circulating in Jamaica, "but it's in the cooler months that there is an increase in viral activity".

The outbreak has forced the education ministry to close the Bridgeport Infant School in Portmore, St Catherine, and one other school in the parish.

Education Minister Ronald Thwaites has, however, indicated the health of students should be the primary focus of school administrators and said a decision on whether to suspend classes would be left to their discretion.