Summertime may mean outdoor fun for children, but a Taipei doctor said parents should on the alert against enterovirus infection, especially in crowded places, such as theme parks, swimming pools, food courts and night markets.
“With the weather turning hotter, we are entering the peak season for enterovirus. When a child is infected, the whole family may be infected as well,” said Wu Ping-sheng (吳秉昇), an attending pediatrician at the Taipei Tzu Chi General Hospital.
Enteroviruses enter the human body through the gastrointestinal tract and often move on to attack the nervous system, medical authorities said. They are second only to the “common cold” virus as the most common viral infection in humans, and affects millions of people worldwide each year.
“There are about 67 different types of enteroviruses. When a person is infected by one of these, the body does not produce antibodies for the rest, so children can get infected repeatedly by different types of enteroviruses,” he said.
A number of severe diseases may result from enterovirus infection, mostly for infants aged three and below, Wu added.
One especially dangerous type is Enterovirus 71, which can lead to encephalitis, congestive heart failure and other severe illnesses. It caused the death of 78 infants in the nation during the summer of 1998, thus health authorities warned the public to be on guard.
The main type of enterovirus reported so far this year is the coxsackievirus A6 (CV-A6).
“Although it is not likely to result in severe illnesses, infected children may get painful blisters on their hands, feet and mouth. There is also high rate of cross-infection among family members as the virus replicates inside the blisters,” Wu said.
He added that people should be on the alert after the first case of Enterovirus 71 was reported recently in Taiwan.
Parents should take their children for a checkup if they develop the following symptoms: sore throat, prolonged crying due to pain, blisters or lesions on the hands and feet, difficulty swallowing, and white specks appearing on the tongue, inside the cheeks, or the back of the mouth.
For people who have contracted the virus, Wu advised drinking plenty of water and getting sufficient rest to prevent dehydration, shock and other complications.”
There is no known vaccine against enterovirus, Wu said, adding that the most effective prevention is washing hands frequently.
“For prevention, it is important to maintain a clean living environment. We suggest using a diluted bleach solution to clean chairs, desks, bed frames and other places that children touch frequently,” Wu advised.
He also reminded parents to ensure that their children maintain a regular pattern of activity and enough sleep to keep their immunity system up.
“They should also avoid going to crowded public places to lower the possibility of getting enterovirus infection,” Wu said.