• Kyodo

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Parents of infants and small children should be concerned about recent outbreaks of hand, foot and mouth disease in Japan, with the number of weekly patients the highest in a decade, researchers warn.

According to recent research by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, there are a record number of highly virulent illnesses, such as hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) and “pool fever” prevalent among young children that can sometimes trigger encephalitis.

Typical symptoms of HFMD include fever, mouth sores and skin rashes. In most cases, patients are cured with no subsequent complications, but there are rare instances of meningitis or acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) occurring.

In the current outbreak, the enterovirus A71 type, which differs from the dominant strain in summer, has been observed by researchers. The virus is known to cause more complications with the central nervous system than other viruses, and there have been cases of fatalities occurring in previous outbreaks.

According to a report by nationwide government-designated pediatric medical facilities, there were 1.28 patients per medical facility in the 46th week this year from Nov. 13 to 19, surpassing 0.99 patient per medical facility for the same period in 2011.

By prefecture, Saga had the most at 5.14, but Aomori at 2.52, Miyagi at 2.37 and Fukui at 2.18 also stood out for a high number of patients. Large outbreaks of the EV-A71 virus were detected in Yamagata, Ehime, Osaka and Tokyo, among other prefectures.

Researchers warn that patients should beware of fevers lasting more than two days and symptoms such as lethargy.

“Particular caution should be given at nursery schools and other places where there are many children. As is the case with norovirus, thorough precautions should be taken to ensure (children) wash their hands after using the toilet, for example,” said Tsuguto Fujimoto, director at the national institute.

For pool fever, there were 0.67 patients per medical facility, or 1.6 times as many this year, compared with the previous high in 2013, according to a report. Hokkaido at 2.98, Miyazaki at 2.31 and Toyama at 2.00 had the most patients.

Pool fever, or pharyngo-conjunctival fever, is believed to be transmitted in public swimming pools in many cases. There have been more outbreaks in winter as of late, and an increase in cases can be expected as the year winds down.