PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) has reached outbreak proportions in Malaysia, forcing the authorities to take urgent measures to contain it.
The Health Ministry has placed the country under the "alert level" following last week's 1,379 cases nationwide with Selangor, Johor and Kuala Lumpur topping the list.
Health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah said there was an increase of 83 cases or 6.4 per cent, compared with 1,296 cases the week before.
"The upward trend began in the last week of April with 794 cases.
"A directive was issued in early May to all state health departments to step up monitoring and preventive efforts," he said.
Selangor has the highest number of cases with 4,441 (32.6 per cent), followed by Johor 1,393 (10.2 per cent), Kuala Lumpur 1,317 (9.7 per cent), Sabah 1,299 (9.5 per cent) and Sarawak 1,108 (8.1 per cent).
In Negri Sembilan, health authorities have closed 12 nurseries and pre-schools to enable disinfection procedures to be carried out there.
State health director Abdul Rahim Abdullah said the outbreak of the disease was also detected in six houses.
"Up to Sunday, a total of 485 HFMD cases have been reported.
"So far, there is no new outbreak besides the 18 spots," he said, adding that nurseries and preschools in Taman Seri Pandan, Seremban, were among the first affected areas.
An alert will be put out to warn the public if the number of weekly cases exceeds 20.
Last month, the number of cases shot up to 87 in the fourth week from 28 in the second week.
In Kuala Terengganu, there was a 35 per cent increase in cases as the authorities took prompt action to inspect day care centres, kindergartens and surroundings.
State Health, Women, Family and Community Development Committee chairman Muhammad Pehimi Yusof said 165 cases were reported in the first five months this year, a surge from 122 cases for the whole of last year.
In Ipoh, the number of cases was dropping, from a peak of 25 cases between February and May.
Perak health director Juita Ghazalie said it was a cyclical pattern in which the disease would rise every two years.
Datuk Juita said useful information on the disease had been disseminated to all parties and a sentinel surveillance laboratory set up at Taiping and Seri Manjung Hospital to monitor the situation closely.
HFMD is highly contagious and caused by enteroviruses, particularly the Coxsackie A16 and Enterovirus 71 strains.
Symptoms include fever, sore throat, rashes on the hands and feet, and mouth ulcers.
In severe cases, patients can come down with other complications such as meningoencephalitis or myocarditis and may even result in death.