On April 26, reporters at CQ News released an abstract reminding parents that May and June are the most contagious months for Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease (HFM).
Though the focus of the article was for infants, schoolchildren are also capable of contracting the disease during this season, which the National Health and Family Planning Commission of the P. R. of China (NHFPC) said lasts through July and is most contagious for children under 5. Though HFM is considered a manageable nuisance in the West, the childhood infection is taken seriously in Beijing and throughout China.
In Beijing’s southern Daxing District, for example, the education bureau has stated that if two students in one classroom contract the disease at the same time, the classroom must be cancelled for two weeks. In addition, if three homeroom classes contract the disease (meaning six students total), then the whole school must shutdown for two weeks to keep the infection from spreading to others.
Steven S., a teacher at a preschool in Daxing, said that his school was even more aggressive, with the classroom shutting down if only one student has the disease. “Teachers of that class then need to come in every day after the class shuts down to thoroughly disinfect everything.”
Sasha Gigliesi, principal and co-founder of Mammolina Children’s Home – Model Montessori Kindergarten, commented, “It’s not just HFM that schools get to shut down. For example, during the recent outbreak of the Norwalk virus, Chinese schools were also required to shut down if an outbreak occurs.”
The HFM infection can be prevented primarily by proper hand-washing techniques before eating, after using the bathroom, and when coming in to contact with bodily fluid. Disinfection of heavily-trafficked areas and avoiding sharing food utensils is incredibly important.
Gigliesi pointed out that relevant health departments in each district are informed by the city in how to carry out the work of disease prevention. The city plays a delegation role while the districts handle out the grunt of the work in information dissemination, protocol implementation, and accountability. “Chinese schools are constantly being informed by the relevant health departments, while foreign schools aren’t. The reason for this doesn’t have anything to do with health and hygiene, but because […] Chinese schools licenses are issued by the district, while foreign school licenses are issued by the city.” This leads to a confusing assumption that district health departments do not have jurisdiction within foreign schools. “In the past, some foreign schools told the district health inspection team not to even enter their doors, which happened even when SARS was going on.”
“Along with the usual symptoms of HFM, serious cases could go in to a coma, and encephaledema,” Gigliesi mentioned from the policy handed down by NHFPC. She also said the policy requires that schools “need to have a HFM Prevention Plan, where it’s stated what we do at school, including morning inspection of children’s mouth and hands, morning log of children’s conditions and absences, disinfecting procedures, informing the parents of the disease and prevention, follow up on children who have had it and when they can return back to school, and so forth.”
The US FDA has not approved any vaccination for HFD, interestingly as the virus that causes HFM in the US is not the same virus that causes it in China. “Although EV71-associated disease has been seen in the United States, the virus is not the major cause of HFMD there. However, EV71 can also cause central nervous system disease and illnesses such as aseptic meningitis” (source). China FDA, on the other hand, has approved vaccine EV71 for the prevention of HFM.