( dpa ) - An outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) has affected more than 2,600 people in three weeks, potentially the most serious spread of the virus in eight years, doctors said in a published report on Sunday.
The majority of those afflicted in Singapore are children. Although no one has died, a 7-year-old girl was in a hospital with brain damage.
"When the HFMD virus was first identified here in 1972, there were only 104 cases over three months," The Sunday Times quoted Dr Tay Chong Hai as saying.
Tai, the doctor who first identified HFMD in the city-state, said outbreaks can occur when there is a lowering of "herd immunity" or not enough immune individuals in a community to protect the rest from infection.
This year's spike and rapid spread could be due to more children in childcare centres, more air-conditioned spaces like malls, and possibly a more contagious strain, he said.
HFMD is caused by intestinal viruses. The most common strains are the Coxsackie virus and Enterovirus 71.
Adults may get the illness, but children under five are most susceptible.
The EV71 strain, which has infected 16 per cent of the patients, is also more contagious, Tay said.
There is no vaccine for HFMD.
Symptons include a fever, sore throat and runny nose, rash, mouth ulcers, vomiting, diarrhoea and weakness.
Some childcare centres have empty classrooms.
"Parents of the younger kids prefer to keep their children at home because they're afraid of the disease," said Daphne Lee, the principal at one such centre.