Extra instances of hand, foot and mouth illness needing outpatient care in Winnipeg: Shared Well being

Cases of hand, foot and mouth disease that lead kids to get outpatient treatment at Winnipeg’s Children’s Hospital are on the rise following two dormant years during the pandemic, Shared Health says.

Last month saw 138 such cases compared to 29 the month before. By contrast, there were 18 cases treated in hospital in 2021 and 24 in 2020, a spokesperson for the organization, which oversees health-care delivery in Manitoba, said in an email Friday.

In 2019, there were 143 cases treated in hospital. Most happened between June and November, fitting with the seasonal nature of the disease, which typically spreads more in the summer and fall, the spokesperson said. 

No cases from 2019 to present day have required admission to hospital, they said. The numbers also don’t include patients who got care outside a hospital setting, like through a primary care provider. 

Several factors are believed to be contributing to the rise in cases, including the end of most pandemic restrictions allowing for the re-emergence of the disease, the spokesperson said.

Children, who are more susceptible for viruses than adults are, are also generally more socially active now than they were during the pandemic — meaning their risk of exposure is higher.

Changing strains of the virus may also account for the steady rise in the number of cases of the disease as it re-emerges, the spokesperson said.

Daycares seeing rise

Jodie Kehl, executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association, said a recent survey of 150 of its members found nearly 70 per cent had cases of the disease over the last three months. 

On average, facilities reported about four cases each, she said. But some comments coming from child-care providers hit the hardest were alarming.

“One facility reported having, in the last two months, over 44 cases. One facility reported having 48 per cent of the children enrolled in their program had been affected over the last three weeks,” Kehl said.

“Some children are now having recurring cases of it, I guess because it’s still going through the facility. So, you know, [it’s] just another challenge for programs to have to deal with right now.”

Jodie Kehl, executive director of the Manitoba Child Care Association, says daycares have seen a rise in cases of hand, foot and mouth disease over the last three months. (Jill Coubrough/CBC)

She said staff at some facilities have also come down with the disease, which takes a toll on providers — especially as many are already short-staffed.

“It’s another layer of responsibility being [put on] early childhood educators while they’re still trying to provide high-quality curriculum for young children,” Kehl said.

Ways to treat, prevent

The Shared Health spokesperson said there’s no specific treatment for the disease, but symptoms are usually mild and most people recover within a week to 10 days of getting sick.

Treatment can include giving acetaminophen for symptomatic fever and focusing on hydrating with fluids and avoiding acidic or crumbly foods, which may further irritate ulcers in the mouth.

Kids may sometimes have a more severe form of the disease leading to dehydration or inflammation of the coverings of the brain, but that’s rare, the spokesperson said. 

Measures people can take to decrease the spread of the virus include washing hands frequently, using proper cough and sneeze etiquette, keeping shared items and surface areas clean and avoiding close contact with people who are sick. 

That means keeping kids home from daycare while they have the disease, the spokesperson said. Good handwashing at daycares, especially after diaper changes, and regular disinfection of toys and play surfaces can also help decrease spread of the illness.

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