27 March 2017, by Joel Chng
One Thursday morning a few weeks ago, my son Ezra woke up with a fever. I immediately knew something was amiss, as Ezra had never been ill since he was born, and he had not recently gone for a vaccination (fever is a vaccination side-effect).
That afternoon, his temperature kept climbing and I started to worry when a red spot appeared on his chin. As a first-time parent, I took things one step at a time. First, I checked the list of paediatric clinics covered by my company, and picked the one nearest to home. I then called ahead to let them know that I was bringing in my 17-month-old who showed hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) symptoms.
Upon registration, we were attended to immediately. The paediatrician examined Ezra’s mouth and showed me the white spots at the back of Ezra’s throat. My son was officially diagnosed with HFMD.
HFMD has no specific treatment so the paediatrician only gave Ezra medicine to bring down his high fever, as well as calamine lotion to soothe his rashes. I was instructed to feed Ezra the fever medicine at strict five-hour intervals, even in the middle of the night. Truth be told, I was not keen to wake Ezra up to feed him medicine. Let sleeping babies sleep, I say – especially when they are unwell!
The paediatrician reminded me that HFMD is highly infectious, and I replied that I was safe because I already had HFMD during childhood. Her response surprised me: “You can contract HFMD a second and third time, and adults can get HFMD too.” Oops; I did not know that! And there I was, thinking that Ezra would be safe from HFMD in future.
I later learnt that HFMD is caused by different viruses. Sure, Ezra’s immune system will form antibodies against the virus this time and he will not get infected again if he is re-exposed to the same virus. However, he can get HFMD again if he is exposed to a different strain of the virus.
While waiting to make payment, I informed Ezra’s playgroup teachers about his HFMD so that they could take the necessary precautions and monitor the other children. Ezra attends playgroup on Wednesday and Sunday mornings, and I did not know when he caught the virus as the incubation period (from the time of infection to when the symptoms first appear) is three to five days.
Ezra was issued a seven-day medical certificate, and I immediately applied for two days of urgent leave (using my childcare leave entitlement). The paediatrician informed me that Ezra would need a letter certifying him fit for school, should Ezra resume his playgroup sessions during the mandatory 10-day quarantine period.
I braced myself for a tough week ahead. I knew how HFMD can affect young children – what more a toddler who is unable to form sentences to express how he feels and what ails him!
When we got home, I sanitized Ezra’s play area and all potentially contaminated objects: toys, books, door handles and general surfaces. I also had to remind myself not to share food and utensils with Ezra. (What? I am now unable to help finish his leftovers?)
The next day, it broke my heart to see Ezra experiencing pain while eating and drinking. For the first time ever, Ezra refused to nurse. To help Ezra in his swallowing and wanting to make him feel comfortable despite his mouth ulcers, I fed him yogurt using a syringe and offered him cold water throughout the day to keep him hydrated.
On day three, some red spots showed up on Ezra’s hands and feet, but his appetite resumed and my son was back to his cheery and energetic self. Thankfully, the rashes did not seem to affect him and to my relief, no more new spots appeared.
Long story short, Ezra’s HFMD was a very mild case (two spots on his face and a few spots on his palms and soles) and he recovered very fast. However, just to be safe, Ezra did not attend playgroup for two weeks as HFMD symptoms can last up to two weeks, with the patient being most contagious during the first week.
I am now more mindful to wash Ezra’s hands at the end of each playgroup session, as well as to clean and sanitize Ezra’s play areas at home on a daily basis. This incident also reminded me not to take things for granted – I realised that children can fall sick at any age!