Over 125,000 cases, and 57 fatalities of hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) have been reported by China's Ministry of Health so far this year. It is estimated that 95% of cases of HFMD have been in children less than 5 years old living in the most rural parts of the country. Regions reporting the greatest number of cases include Henan, Shandong, Jiangsu, Guangxi, Anhui, Guangdong, Hebei, Hubei, Hunan, and Zhejiang, all within China’s agricultural belt where healthcare is minimal. Continuing problems, such as the lack of HFMD prevention training for rural doctors, and the existing fear that government officials are hiding the problem and number of deaths, plague the provinces most severely affected. In addition, with the outbreak not expected to peak until May-July, it is likely that the number of cases and fatalities will rise.
HFMD is a common enterovirus most often seen in infants and children. Symptoms of the disease include fever, sore throat, non-itchy skin rash, and painful sores on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. While not usually fatal, serious complications can result from infection such as meningitis, and encephalitis that can lead to death. Infection is spread person-to-person via direct contact with infectious virus contained in the nose, throat, saliva, blisters, and stool of infected persons. HFMD is often confused with foot-and-mouth (hoof-and-mouth), which is a disease that occurs in cattle, sheep and pigs. The diseases are not related, as a different virus causes hoof-and-mouth, and humans cannot get the animal disease and animals cannot get the human disease.
No specific treatment exists for HFMD, however symptoms can be treated to provide relief from painful sores. Currently, there is no vaccine to protect against the enteroviruses that are able to cause HFMD. The use of good hygiene practice, including frequent hand washing and avoiding close contact with infected persons, is the best means to lower the risk of becoming infected.
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