Risk of adults getting infected with HFMD is only 1 to 5 per cent

While it is extremely difficult for parents of children with hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) to protect themselves against being infected, it is also unusual for a child or an adult to have such a severe attack of the condition as Ms Glynisia Yeo did.

Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease physician at Rophi Clinic, Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, and Ms Yeo's doctor, explained that her nails were affected as the nail beds were damaged by the infection and her extreme hair loss is known as telogen effluvium.

He said that after a stressful period, the hair stops growing and subsequently falls off one to two months later, in large amounts. The good news is, it will recover.

He added that these symptoms typically happen after a person has given birth or has had a severe illness.

Family members of a child with HFMD have multiple contact and exposure. "More exposure means more opportunities for the virus to transmit," he said.

In other words, a higher viral load is transmitted, resulting in more severe disease.

This consideration is not unique to HFMD as it is seen in influenza, pertussis (whooping cough) and chicken pox too, he added.

The virus is found in the infected child's saliva. "So, as the child speaks, the virus spreads," he said, adding that any surface that the infected child touches would also be exposed to the virus.

But it would not be practical to dress yourself and your infected child in gowns and gloves to avoid catching the virus.

There is no vaccine yet, but the risk of an adult getting infected with HFMD is only 1 to 5 per cent.

Experts also advise people to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly.

Elisa Chia

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2016, with the headline 'Risk of adults getting infected with HFMD is only 1 to 5 per cent'. Print Edition | Subscribe