27 March 2013

NSW Health has received several reports of a rise in the number of young children aged less than five years old, with severe neurological complications caused by a particular type of enterovirus. Many of the reports are from children in northern and south-eastern regions of Sydney.

This includes four children with severe infections within the Sydney Children’s Hospital Network.

Enterovirus is part of a group of viruses that can cause a range of illness, including fevers, rashes, and the common childhood infection hand, foot and mouth disease.

Infection can rarely lead to neurological complications, including inflammation of brain or spinal cord, leading to irritability, seizures, unsteadiness and weakness.  

Most cases make a complete recovery. Some children may be hospitalised for a short time. However, on rare occasions infection can be life threatening or cause long term effects.

NSW Health Director of Health Protection, Dr Jeremy McAnulty, said that enteroviruses are usually spread from person to person, through contact with the respiratory droplets, saliva, faeces or blister fluid from an infected person, or by contact with contaminated articles, such as toys.

“The best way to reduce your chances of infection is to practice good hand hygiene, especially washing hands with soap and water after going to the toilet, before eating, after wiping noses, and after changing nappies or soiled clothing. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and running water for at least 10 seconds,” Dr McAnulty said.

“Children should be taught to wash their hands and to cover their coughs and sneezes with a tissue. If no tissues are available then coughing or sneezing into your elbow is better than into your hands.

“Children with hand, foot and mouth disease should not return to school or childcare until their blisters have dried.”

For more information visit the NSW Health website for a fact sheet: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/handfootmouth.aspx