Japanese data helps refine disease behaviour, potentially aiding public health efforts.

China has a big problem with Hand Foot and Mouth disease (HFMD). According to the World Health Organisation, there were over 13,000 cases in February with one fatality, although that’s an improvement on the more than 130,000 cases reported in November 2017.

Like many infectious diseases, HFMD picks out young children, in whom it causes fever, painful mouth blisters, lung infection and, rarely, meningitis, paralysis and death. Its explosive prevalence in China is perhaps why citizens there can access a vaccine that remains, thus far unavailable in countries including Australia and the US.

A major challenge for the public health response to the enteroviruses that trigger HFMD is predicting when outbreaks will happen, and the signature or “serotype” of the culprit virus. Such information would be a boon for planning prevention measures such as vaccination, hand hygiene and mask use.

That cause has now been advanced by research, published in the journal Science, from Margarita Pons-Salort and Nicholas Grassly of the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at Imperial College London in the UK, who have developed a model for predicting epidemic outbreaks.

Read the full story in Cosmos magazine here