The name may conjure images of Medieval plagues or equestrian illnesses, but annual outbreaks of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease have become very much a routine reality in Beijing.
Not to be confused with "Foot (or Hoof) and Mouth Disease" (which afflicts livestock), this viral born ailment is common in small children and infants and causes "fever and blister-like eruptions in the mouth and/or a skin rash." Late spring/early summer outbreaks are a common occurrence in the capital, and though it is generally not considered a very serious illness, a few deaths have been reported in Beijing in the past few years, including a one-year-old baby in April of this year.
Varying degrees of severity notwithstanding, Beijing municipal regulations stipulate that if two or more cases are reported in a single class within a week, the class must cease operations for ten days. Likewise, if ten cases are reported in a single kindergarten within a week, the entire school will be ordered to shut down operations for ten days as well.
This week one student at my daughter’s school has reportedly fallen ill (with no word, yet, on any others), so it remains to be seen if we will be obliged to babysit at home for the next couple of weeks should her class get suspended. As of this past Tuesday, parents have been restricted from entering the school grounds when dropping off or picking up their children (a measure which elicits mixed reactions in my mind). For now, it seems, the most sensible measure is for everyone in the house, especially the young ones, to continually and thoroughly wash their hands upon returning from outside.