Malaysia on high alert as hand, foot and mouth disease outbreak spreads

The upward trend began in the last week of April with 794 cases.

Malaysia is on high alert after the hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) reached outbreak proportions in the country.

The health ministry has taken urgent measures to control the outbreak. There were 1,379 HFMD cases nationwide with Selangor, Johor and Kuala Lumpur at the top of the list.

Health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah said there was an increase of 83 cases or 6.4 per cent, compared with 1,296 cases registered the week before.

"The upward trend began in the last week of April with 794 cases. A directive was issued in early May to all state health departments to step up monitoring and preventive efforts," he told The Straits Times.

According to the ministry, Selangor has a total of 4,441 cases, which is the highest with 32.6 percent. It is followed by Johor with 1,393 cases (10.2 per cent) and then comes Kuala Lumpur 1,317 (9.7 per cent), Sabah 1,299 (9.5 per cent) and Sarawak 1,108 (8.1 per cent).

The health authorities have already closed 12 nurseries and preschools in Negri Sembilan in order to carry out disinfection procedures there.

Abdul Rahim Abdullah, the State health director, said that six houses were also detected with the disease. "Up to Sunday, a total of 485 HFMD cases have been reported. So far, there is no new outbreak besides the 18 spots," he said.

He also added that the nurseries and preschools in Taman Seri Pandan, Seremban were among the first areas to get affected by HFMD.

If the total number of weekly cases exceeds 20, then the authorities will put out an alert to warn the public.

Last month, 28 cases were detected till the second week but surprisingly the number shot up to 87 by the fourth week. In Kuala Terengganu, the authorities were seen taking prompt action to inspect day care centres, kindergartens and surroundings. The results showed that there was an increase in the number of cases up to 35 per cent.

However, in Ipoh, there was a drop in the number of cases from 25 between the month of February and May.

The State Health, Women, Family and Community Development Committee chairman, Muhammad Pehimi Yusof, said that 165 cases were reported in the first five months this year, whereas last year only 122 cases were detected. Hence, the number of affected cases is surely on a rise.

Perak health director, Juita Ghazalie said that the disease is rising in a cyclical pattern every two years. She also said that information about the disease has already been disseminated to all parties.

They have also taken steps to set up a sentinel surveillance laboratory at Taiping and Seri Manjung Hospital to closely monitor the situation.

HFMD is highly infectious in nature. It is caused by enteroviruses, specifically the Coxsackie A16 and Enterovirus 71 strains.

It can be detected by symptoms like fever, sore throat, rashes on the hands and feet, and mouth ulcers. Apart from these, patients might also have other complications such as meningoencephalitis or myocarditis in severe cases and it may even result in death.