Viral Infection Hits 15 Childcare Centres in Far North Queensland

February 24, 2021 Updated: February 24, 2021

An Australian city in the far north of the state of Queensland is dealing with a significant spike in cases of hand, foot, and mouth disease, affecting 15 childcare centres, with tests being carried out urgently to determine the cause.

Cairns and the nearby Tablelands region have been hit hard, with 60 infected people presenting at Cairns Hospital’s emergency department since the start of the year.

Nine were so sick they were admitted.

Hand, foot, and mouth is not a notifiable disease so there’s no long-term data on typical case numbers, but the hospital presentations are evidence of a significant spike.

Viruses of the enterovirus family cause the illness, and tests are being conducted in Brisbane to identify which one is behind the outbreak.

“We always see it in the summer months … why we are having more of it in Cairns this particular year, we’re not sure yet,” public health medical officer Dr. Annie Preston-Thomas told reporters. “We know that in the Asia-Pacific region they’ve been having increasing outbreaks of hand, foot and mouth disease in the last 10 to 15 years.”

Preston-Thomas said she should know the specific virus involved within a week and it might “tell us more about why we’ve got so much of it”.

The highly infectious disease most commonly affects preschool-age children, but can also affect older children and adults.

Symptoms include a runny nose, fever, and tell-tale blisters or rash-like legions on the hands, feet and in and around the mouth.

It spreads via contact with fluid from inside the blisters, or via droplets from sneezing and coughing.

Preston-Thomas said parents must not send their kids to daycare or school if they have any symptoms.

By Tracey Ferrier