A new kit, which will go on clinical trial next year, will make it easier and faster to identify people suffering from hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD).
It was invented by Dr Tan Eng Lee, centre director of Singapore Polytechnic's centre for biomedical and life sciences.
It checks saliva instead of blood samples and cuts detection time from a few hours to under 15 minutes, he said.
HFMD is a viral infection . Its incubation period is three to five days. Both adults and children can be affected, but adults usually develop immunity to the virus.
Children below five years old are more susceptible, making childcare centres and kindergartens hot spots for the spread of the disease.
Data from the Health Ministry, released weekly, shows that 21,592 HFMD cases were reported from January to September, up from 16,800 in the same period last year.
HFMD usually resolves itself without treatment but, sometimes, complications involving the nervous system and heart can happen.
To spot infections, teachers check for physical symptoms such as mouth ulcers and small blisters on the palms of hands.
However, when children present such symptoms, the virus would already have spread to others, said Dr Tan.
His test kit will help detect cases early. It works like a pregnancy test; if two red bands appear on the kit when a saliva sample is tested, the person has HFMD.
If only one red band appears, he or she does not.
To detect the family of viruses present in an infected person's saliva, the kit makes use of antibodies that can bind to them.
This test kit is likely to undergo clinical trials in May next year and, if approved, will be available for use by medical practitioners around July, said Dr Kevin Koh of Vivo Diagnostics, which has initiated the commercialisation of the kit.
Dr Koh is now working with a team of five others, including Dr Tan and Vivo Diagnostics senior research manager Lin Zhaoru, to make the kit user-friendly.
Eventually, he hopes that the HFMD kit can be sold off- the-shelf in pharmacies.