Four schools closed due to spike in HFMD cases

Close scrutiny: SJKC Poay Wah teachers checking the mouths of pupils for ulcers and spots.

GEORGE TOWN: The hand, foot and mouth disease has spread to pupils in Penang and their schools have been ordered to close after health officials inspected them.

With the HFMD spread now at an alarming 472% higher than last year, at least four schools have been ordered to close for 10 days since Monday.

The state Health Department stated that SJKC Phor Thay in Bagan Jermal and an international school were ordered to close three days ago.

SJKC Shih Chung Cawangan was ordered to close yesterday, while SJKC Sum Sun (Year One to Three classes) would be closed today.

All three schools are in Bayan Lepas.

National-type schools seem to be in the clear for now. Explaining the spike, state Health Committee chairman Dr Afif Bahardin said 63 HFMD clusters were found in Penang this year compared with just 11 in the same period last year.

As at Monday, 1,679 cases were recorded so far, compared with 1,073 during the same period last year.

He said that other facilities still ordered closed included a children’s nursery, a daycare centre and 13 kindergartens. More than 60 such facilities have been ordered to shut down for 10 days so far this year.

“There is no specific treatment for HFMD, so prevention is crucial. All facilities that serve children must practise the highest hygiene standards and conduct gate-screening. Any child displaying the symptoms must not be allowed to enter the facility,” Dr Afif said in a statement.

SJKC Poay Wah in Tanjung Bungah has begun gate-screening with the help of its parents-teachers association.

The schoolteachers double up as “health officers” and, wearing surgical gloves and masks, take turns to arrive early to screen every pupil for HFMD symptoms before letting them in.

Headmistress Lian Poh Lai said parents would be called in if their children displayed signs of HFMD symptoms.

Though not fatal, HFMD can bring excruciating pain to children. Raw, white ulcers can fill their mouth cavity until they are unable to eat.

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