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DISEASE OUTBREAK

29 schools in Bangkok cancel classes

Highest incidence of hand, foot and mouth for years; no deaths reported

At least 29 schools in Bangkok have suspended some of their classes or shut down their whole facilities in the wake of the hand, foot, and mouth disease - or HFMD outbreak.

"In Bangkok, most patients are young children aged not over four years old," Dr Wongwat Liewlak said yesterday. He is head of Bangkok Metropolitan Administration's (BMA) Communicable Diseases Control Division.

According to the Public Health Ministry, some 12,581 people got the disease in Thailand between January 1 and July 9 this year. There is no report of any deaths.

Prof Yong Poovorawan, a virus expert from Chulalongkorn University (CU), said the most common strain of HFMD spreading in Thailand now was CA6 (Coxsackie A6) - not CA16 anymore.

"At this point, it seems the incidences of HFMD are the highest in three decades," he said.

In Bangkok alone, 2,322 people had caught the disease. All up 18 schools in the capital have totally shut down, while 11 others have had to suspend some classes.

The prestigious CU demonstration primary school is among schools being closed temporarily due to the spread of HFMD among its students.

"We have found that 22 students came down with the disease," the university's president Dr Pirom Kamol-Ratanakul said yesterday.

The school closure - which started yesterday - will run till Friday including two days closed for CU's commencement ceremony.

"I believe the temporary closure will not hurt children's studies," Pirom said.

FOUR STUDENTS DIAGNOSED

The school's director Assoc Prof Supranee Jiranarong said four students were diagnosed with the disease on July 12, and four days later 18 more students caught the same disease.

"So, we have decided to close down the school temporarily and contacted a nearby public-health service centre to spray proper disinfectant across classrooms," she said.

Pirom urged the public to not get panicked about the spread of HFMD.

"If we follow the Public Health Ministry's guidelines, we will be |able to control the situation," he said.

The HFMD has raised serious concerns lately because a recent outbreak in Cambodia claimed more than 50 lives.

However, Thai officials have explained that the HFMD strain in Cambodia was more dangerous than the one commonly found in Thailand.

According to Deputy Government Spokesman Anusorn Iamsa-ard, the Public Health Ministry has now called on nurseries and schools to strictly maintain hygiene standards at their facilities.

Yong said department stores should clean playground zones more often too so as to reduce |the incidence of HFMD.

"There is no medicine and vaccine available to cure this disease. We can only prescribe the medicine to ease symptoms," he said.

According to him, 60 per cent of Thai children aged under five have no immunity against the disease. But most Thais aged over 12 years old do have immunity against the disease.

"A 'war room' must be set up at a provincial level with the provincial governor as the chair if there are more than 10 cases of HFMD found each day," Anusorn said.


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