Viral infection hits 15 childcare centres

Tracey FerrierAAP
Cairns Hospital has seen an uplift in presentations for hand, foot and mouth disease.
Camera IconCairns Hospital has seen an uplift in presentations for hand, foot and mouth disease.

Urgent testing is under way to find out what's behind a spike in hand, foot and mouth disease in far north Queensland, where 15 childcare centres have been affected.

Cairns and the nearby Tablelands region have been hit hard, with 60 infected people presenting at Cairns Hospital's emergency department since the start of the year.

Nine were so sick they were admitted.

Hand, foot and mouth is not a notifiable disease so there's no long-term data on typical case numbers, but the hospital presentations are evidence of a significant spike.

Viruses of the enterovirus family cause the illness, and tests are being conducted in Brisbane to identify which one is behind the outbreak.

"We always see it in the summer months ... why we are having more of it in Cairns this particular year, we're not sure yet," public health medical officer Dr Annie Preston-Thomas told reporters.

"We know that in the Asia-Pacific region they've been having increasing outbreaks of hand, foot and mouth disease in the last 10 to 15 years."

Dr Preston-Thomas says she should know the specific virus involved within a week and it might "tell us more about why we've got so much of it".

The highly infectious disease most commonly affects preschool-age children, but can also affect older children and adults.

Symptoms include a runny nose, fever and tell-tale blisters or rash-like legions on the hands, feet and in and around the mouth.

It spreads via contact with fluid from inside the blisters, or via droplets from sneezing and coughing.

Dr Preston-Thomas says parents must not send their kids to daycare or school if they have any symptoms.

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