Mainichi Shimbun reporter Kohei Chiwaki answers some common questions readers may have about hand, foot and mouth disease, which has been spreading in Japan. The disease has been reported in Osaka Prefecture since April, and the prevalence of the condition topped the warning level between June 26 and July 2 with indications of another outbreak in Japan like that marked in 2015.
Question: Exactly what kind of disease is this?
Answer: It's an ailment that spreads in summer, mainly among children up to the age of about 4. It is caused by a virus called an enterovirus. This includes Coxsackievirus A6 (CVA6) and Enterovirus 71 (EV71). It causes rashes that look like blisters inside the mouth and on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet, and about one out of every three patients suffers a fever. Usually people with the disease recover within several days, but among some patients complications such as meningitis arise.
Q: Does it affect only children?
A: No, I got it in June at the age of 33. I had a fever between 38 and 39 degrees Celsius, and I got lots of ulcers on my tongue and Adam's apple. Red rashes also appeared on my hands and feet, and at the hospital I was diagnosed with hand, foot and mouth disease. Treatment is limited to supportive measures, so I took pain relievers and waited for the disease to heal. I apparently caught the disease from my son, who is 1 year, 7 months old.
Q: It's tough when you eat food, isn't it?
A: I made sure to keep taking fluids, but it hurts. In some cases, children don't want to eat food and they get dehydrated, so care is needed.
Q: How is the disease transmitted?
A: It can spread through coughing and sneezing, and well as through feces. According to the Osaka Institute of Public Health, "entero" refers to the intestinal canals and as "enterovirus" suggests, the virus that causes hand, foot and mouth disease easily accumulates in the intestines. Even after a patient's condition improves, the virus can remain in a person's stool for as long as a month.
Q: What can someone do to avoid infection?
A: There is no effective vaccine in Japan, so people are advised to thoroughly wash their hands and gargle. In the summer people have a tendency to be careless, so we should make a point of taking care.
Q: It's important to disinfect children's toys, too, isn't it?
A: It's said that enteroviruses are highly resistant to alcohol-based disinfection, but sodium hypochlorite, which is found in commercial chlorine bleaches, is effective. However, depending on the content, some types of alcohol-based disinfectants can be effective, so people should check with the store when they purchase a product. (Answers by Kohei Chiwaki, City News Department)