Hand, foot and mouth outbreak strikes Flathead daycares

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The Flathead City-County Health Department reported outbreaks of hand, foot and mouth disease in daycares across the county at the end of November. The spread of the disease has decreased over the past few weeks, while influenza is on the rise with 15 new cases over the last week.

Hand, foot and mouth is a common childhood virus that is characterized by blisters, fever, reduced appetite and a sore throat. The condition is usually observed in the summer and fall, but can occur anytime of year.

“I wouldn’t say unusual,” infectious disease coordinator Lisa Dennison said of the outbreak. “For some reason it does seem that we saw a little bit more than we have in previous years.”

Dennison said three daycares in Flathead County were affected and reported a total of approximately 30 cases. No new reports have been received by the Health Department as of early last week, she added.

“The facilities are usually very easy to work with — they want to respond well to the outbreak,” Dennison said.

Schools and daycares are required to report instances of the disease, but only when the number of cases eclipses the baseline level. More serious conditions such as the measles, mumps and salmonella, must be reported, regardless of the number.

Hand, foot and mouth is spread by direct contact with saliva, nose and throat discharges, fluid from blisters or stool. Symptoms include the development of small, fluid-filled blisters on the palms, soles of the feet, and inside the mouth. Blisters may also be present on the buttocks, knees and elbows. The disease often clears up within 10 days on its own or with the aid of an anti-inflammatory. It is frequent in childcare settings, according to the Mayo Clinic, due to diaper changes, potty training and because children often put their hands in their mouths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated the disease often strikes infants and children younger than 5 years old, because they haven’t developed immunity to the viruses that cause the disease.

To prevent the spread it is recommended to practice good hygiene, such as hand-washing, especially after changing diapers and avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. The CDC advises that the disease may be prevented by avoiding close contact with infected persons and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs and toys.

Influenza has also begun to rear its head this season.

“Last week is when we noticed it really pick up,” Dennison said Monday. “I would say we had about 15 cases this last week, and before that, since the beginning of the season we only had about six.”

Dennison said rates of the virus typically jump in December and peak in February and March. Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection passed by coughs and sneezes, saliva and skin-to-skin contact or contact with a contaminated surface. Symptoms can last anywhere from days to weeks and range from fever and chills to congestion and fatigue.

Dennison encourages people to adopt preventative measures such as getting their annual flu shot and washing their hands consistently. She also noted that covering the nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing can help prevent the spread of the flu, along with staying at home when feeling under the weather.

The first case of influenza in the Flathead Valley was confirmed Sept. 26 by the health department. Last year, the Montana Department of Health and Human Services recorded nearly 8,000 cases of the flu statewide, with 829 hospitalizations and 56 deaths.

Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or mreiss@dailyinterlake.com.

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