Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease warning for Far North

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Dozens of cases of Hand, Foot and Mouth disease have been identified by public health officials across Far North Queensland. Here's what you can do to prevent the disease spreading.

Parents are being urged to watch out for Hand,Foot and Mouth disease following dozens of cases that have been identified in the Far North.

There have been more than 60 presentations of Hand, Foot and Mouth disease (HFMD) to Cairns Hospital’s Emergency Department since the start of the year, including 9 patient admissions.

Tropical Public Health Services Cairns public health medical officer, Dr Annie Preston-Thomas, said the team was aware of at least 15 day-care centres affected by the disease across the Cairns and Tablelands regions since early January.

“HFMD is a viral illness common in children,” she said.

“We are currently investigating why and how this virus is circulating in our region, but it is commonly linked to warm weather.

“There is a rising global incidence of HFMD, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.

“We usually see a small number of cases during our hotter parts of the year, but this year has been especially severe.”

HFMD is usually a mild illness that occurs mainly in young children but can also affect older children and adults.

It is caused by several different enteroviruses.

People can be infected with these viruses but not develop symptoms of the disease.

Outbreaks of HFMD can occur among groups of children, including in childcare centres.

Dr Preston-Thomas said the disease usually began with a mild fever and a runny nose.

“This is followed by a sore throat and mouth, with the appearance of blisters in the mouth, and on hands and feet,” she said.

“Sometimes blisters may also be seen on knees, elbows or in the nappy area.

“The blisters usually last for 3-5 days.”

She said in rare cases, those infected with HFMD go on to develop neurological disease such as meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain), encephalitis (inflammation of the brain itself), or paralysis.

“Any person with consistent symptoms should not attend day care or school until they are symptom-free, and all blisters have completely dried,” she said.

“To prevent the disease spreading, ensure you practice good hand hygiene; clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and soiled items, including toys; avoid sharing cups, eating utensils, towels, and clothing; and teach children about cough and sneeze etiquette.”

To assist in prevention of spread, parents should report the illness to the director of the childcare centre or school principal.

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease


  • Hand, foot and mouth disease starts with blisters that begin as small red dots which later become ulcers.
  • Blisters appear inside the cheeks, gums, and on the sides of the tongue, as well as on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
  • In infants, blisters can sometimes be seen in the nappy area. Blisters usually last for 3-5 days
  • Children can sometimes have a low fever, irritability, sore throat, tiredness, feel off colour and may be off their food for a day or two.
  • Very rarely, enteroviruses can cause other illnesses that affect the heart, brain, lining of the brain (meningitis), lungs, or eyes.

Signs that an infant or older child might have a more serious form of hand, foot and mouth disease include any of the following:

  • Persistent fever (38°C or above for 72 hours or more)
  • Abnormal movements / jerking movements
  • Rapid breathing
  • Excessive tiredness, drowsiness
  • Excessive irritability
  • Difficulty walking.

If any of these signs are present, then the child should be seen by a doctor urgently even if they have been checked earlier in the illness.