In recent times, the Hand Foot Mouth Disease (HMFD) has been raising concern throughout the country, with increasing number of cases reported every day.
The Health Ministry has confirmed that from January to August 3rd, a total of 43,250 HMFD cases have been detected. It said however, that there had been a decline since the the beginning of August nationwide. There had been previously been an average of 73 cases weekly.
Some schools in several states like Penang and Sabah have been temporarily closed due to the outbreak and the ministry has cautioned schools that stay open to maintain cleanliness to avoid the disease from spreading further.
The ministry has even directed teachers and operators of kindergartens, nurseries and pre-schools to screen children in its efforts to contain the spread of HMFD.
This flurry of activities surrounding the disease, further fueled by recent reports that trolleys and toys at shopping malls have been identified as among the main causes of the spread of HFMD, has raised alarm among parents.
A 17-month-old boy who was admitted to a private hospital in Bayan Lepas, Penang on Jun 3 after experiencing flu, breathing difficulty and mouth ulcers, died in Penang on Jun 6 after his condition worsened.
On July 21, another toddler from Kampung Pangtray, Daro, Mukah in Sarawak, died, believed to be due to HFMD.
Malaysian parents may not be relatively familiar with the disease, and are trying to protect their children from the disease as much as possible.
However, the Health Ministry has released guidelines on the disease for parents and health practitioners, so they can understand the disease better and prepare for any eventualities well.
Consultant Paediatrician and Exco Member of the Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA) Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail, shares some information and pointers on the disease with makchic.
1. What is HFMD?
HFMD is a typically benign but infectious disease caused by a virus. A number of viruses in the Coxsackie A & B and Enterovirus groups cause HFMD.
Enterovirus 71 has been associated with outbreaks of the disease that can cause neurological or brain involvement. However, Coxsackie viruses usually causes fever, malaise, rash, and small blisters that ulcerate and can also rarely cause inflammation of the heart.
2. How does the disease spread?
HFMD is moderately contagious. It spreads by direct contact with secretions from patients. Secretions could be saliva, secretions from skin vesicles, nasal discharge or even faeces and urine.
Close exposures to patients who cough or sneeze will help spread the disease. It can also be transmitted through things that have been touched or handled by patients.
A person is most contagious during the first week of the illness.
3. Who can get the disease?
Anybody who had been in contact with a patient or with belongings contaminated by patients can get it. This applies to both children and adults.
4. What are the symptoms of HFMD?
Symptoms include initial fever or sore throat and refusal to eat. Typical red raised rashes with fluid (vesicles) on hands, feet and/or buttocks. The rashes can also spread to other areas and can cover a greater part of the skin. Ulcers in the mouth will be noticed when the patient refuses to eat or drink.
5. Can the disease be prevented and treated?
There is no vaccine available for the disease. The only way to prevent the disease is to avoid contact with infected patients. Those who are infected can take medicine for fever or pain and must keep themselves rested and hydrated.
6. How can it be fatal?
Although the great majority of cases subside with symptomatic treatment, death can occur if the virus, especially the Enterovirus 71, attacks the brain or heart. Death is caused by inflammation of these organs.
7. Why there is a sudden surge in the disease in Malaysia?
There has always been a low baseline number of cases occurring throughout the year. However, there are certain peaks at certain times and the circulating viruses will also differ with time of the outbreak. Having said so, there is no particular reason why there is a sudden surge of cases of HFMD in parts of the country.
8. How can we protect ourselves?
Avoid close physical contact with those infected with HFMD. Do not share food or cutlery with others. Avoid going to places where we know there are HFMD patients.
Practise healthy lifestyles by eating nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains to improve your immunity.
The CDC also recommends the following preventitive steps to reduce risk of infection:
Wash your hands. Wash often and carefully, especially after using the bathroom, preparing food or drinks, and changing diapers. (And teach your children this too!)
Avoid close contact with infected people. Avoid hugging, kissing, or sharing cups or utensils.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Wash surfaces with hot, soapy water, apply a solution made by adding 2 tablespoons of bleach to 4 cups of water, then rinse and dry.
If we recall our childhood, most of us must remember having crayons somewhere in the house. They may have been broken to pieces – alas! – but there were always crayons stashed away somewhere or filled into an old tin or pencil box.
Colouring with crayons is not only fun – and makes for sweet childhood memories – it is also highly beneficial for children. It hones children’s fine and gross motor strength, tool use and sensory processing.
But that’s not all. Children also learn pencil grasp, line awareness, hand-eye coordination and dexterity, while increasing their endurance, creativity and task completion.
The dangers of crayon sticks
Despite the many benefits of these beloved sticks of coloured wax, crayons have been mired in controversy for containing toxic ingredients and being harmful to children.
In 2015, United States’ Environmental Working Group (EWG) Action Fund found asbestos fibers in four brands of children’s crayons and two kids’ crime lab kits.
EWG’s report stated that children can inhale the fibers while using the crayons and any child exposed to asbestos is 3.5 times more likely than an adult to develop a lung disease caused by asbestos exposure, known as mesothelioma.
Keeping this in mind, a Malaysian mother, Yvonne Kong, set out on a quest to create something that enabled her children to continue doing what they loved doing safely.
In 2016, the 40-year-old mother of two was collecting and recycling all the broken crayons lying around their house.
“Have you seen children throwing away perfectly good crayons away because it had snapped in half? It happens a lot in my house and I thought it was such a waste.
“Not only that, I realised that the crayons available in the market today are not only in traditional, boring stick shapes, but it also contain unhealthy ingredients which can be harmful
to our children. That was when I decided to recycle them,” she said.
Kong said her experimentation with broken crayons was very simple – sorting them into moulds, melting them by baking them and repurposing them more interestingly.
“We used to purchase boxes after boxes of crayons from the bookstores for my kids to doodle at an early age. I started experimenting with them when I discovered they could be re-melted and made into novelty shapes. I was happy that not only I could minimise wastage as a result of broken crayons, I could also make them more fun and exciting!” she said.
Making safe crayons
Kong then started thinking about the safety aspects of the crayons and started experimenting at home.
“With the idea of creating them into novelty shapes, I started experimenting. After a few months, I finally found the perfect recipe to make safe crayons.
“I made the crayons out of beeswax and non-toxic colours. They do not contain paraffin waxes, lead, asbestos and others ingredients which can be toxic and potentially harmful to our health in the long run.
“I made the crayons into novelty shapes like animals shapes, which makes it more exciting for a child to colour. It wasn’t easy. But it’s been very rewarding to see that we could produce and provide to parents and their kids today. These are healthy, fun and safe crayons to doodle, colour and play to their wildest imaginations,” she said.
She started selling her own range of crayons by opening ChubbyFingersPlay, a handmade novelty crayon store in Malaysia.
“The response has been very encouraging, and I am very happy to see young parents, grandparents, uncles and aunties purchasing our safe crayons as a healthier option for their loved ones,” she said.
One of the biggest reason the crayons are a hit with her customers is because of the assurance that children will be safe if they accidentally ate the crayons or took a bite of it out of curiosity.
This is because these safe crayons contain coloured mica, which actually makes them edible.
Although this doesn’t mean that you can feed the crayons to children purposely! Practise caution at all times, Kong emphasised.
“Young babies should not be left unsupervised with the crayons. Do try to avoid the incidents of ‘eating’ the crayons as it could be a choking hazard to your children. But, should your child ingest a ChubbyFingersPlay it really does help to know that your child will be perfectly fine,” she added.
Kong’s number one inspiration to start up her crayon store is her children.
“I spend a great deal of time with them since they were young, observing them. And so I saw the gaps which needed to be filled. I also saw what I can do to help other young mothers who are always on the lookout for healthier options for their kids.”
She added that it is the important to encourage children to doodle away so they strengthen their motor skills, rather than taking the crayons away from them for making a mess.
What does it take to make a dad? This Father’s Day makchic takes a look at some fathers and father figures out there who do all they can for the children they love. We salute all of you amazing dads!
The Long-Distance Father
There’s never a day that I don’t miss home
More often than not, most fathers look forward to going back home after a long day at work. They wish to see their children’s loving faces and spend some quality time with them.
However, for the thousands of immigrants working in Malaysia, that is a dream they may never achieve.
In a bid to give their families better lives, these foreign workers often leave their homes with a heavy heart and work in a different country, hardly getting a chance to see their loved ones.
One such person is Ravichantran Arumugam, an Indian citizen who has been working in Malaysia for about 20 years.
“I left home to another country when my baby was just one-year-old. It was a very difficult decision to make but because I have her best interests in my heart, because I want to give her a better future, I chose to leave.
“In 1995 I first went to Singapore to work. I did some odd jobs there and my staying permit ended. I came to Malaysia in 1999,” said the 46-year-old from Tanjavur, Tamilnadu.
Ravichantran said in Malaysia, he took on employment as an assistant to a man running a laundry business in Ampang.
He worked for years under the guidance of the man, slowly learning the art of the laundry service.
“As time went by, I was mistreated by the man. Sometimes, he even refused to pay my salary. I had to leave because the main reason I am working abroad is for the money.
“If I don’t send back money, my family can’t even eat,” he said.
Through his acquaintances here, Ravichantran got the opportunity to open his own laundry business.
“I rented a space in a shop lot and with the knowledge I acquired from my previous job, I became the boss of my own laundry business.
“My loyal customers from the previous shop switched to my laundry and business has been good,” he explained.
Love for daughter
Ravichantran’s daughter is now 18-years-old. She is studying engineering in a local university in India.
“She always dreamed about becoming an engineer one day. I took it upon myself to do whatever I could do to make her dreams come true.
“Even if that means I won’t be by her side to watch her grow up. At the end of the day, I want her life to be better than mine,” he said.
He said as a father, his most difficult challenge was to be separated from his daughter.
“There’s never a day I don’t miss home. There’s never a day I don’t think of my daughter and my wife.
“I’ve gone away for so long that all three of us don’t even have a family picture together. I do visit them occasionally, but it is not the same as living with them,” he said.
Ravichantran said one of his biggest lessons in fatherhood is appreciating his own father.
“When I was a little boy, I never really appreciated my father because I had no idea being a father required such hard work. Now, as I have become a father, I know the hardships. I know how my father must have felt, sacrificing so many things for me. I appreciate him a lot,” he said.
He only has one advice to younger fathers, especially those who are lucky enough to get to see their children every day.
“Be there with them. Watch them grow up. I am unlucky because I never got that chance. But if you are lucky enough to be with them every day, just be with them as they grow up. They grow up so fast, you know?”, he said.
Special Needs Fatherhood
Caring for a special needs child
Parents around the world know that caring for a child is one of the most difficult things to do. Add a special needs child to the equation and one can imagine the parenting challenges that comes with it.
One person who knows the challenges too well is Iman Wan, whose son, Adam Wan, has Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Iman, who has two other children Arena Wan and Aramysara Wan, first found out about Adam’s condition in 2007.
“Adam was diagnosed when he was two and a half. He had poor eye contact and did not respond to calling like normal kids,” he said.
Iman who has 15 years of experience in the music industry (working with Malaysian artistes like Siti Nurhaliza, Sheila Majid and Amy Mastura), said he had to make lifestyle changes when this happened.
The endless sacrifices
“I had to leave my job to stay home and help my wife raise Adam. I built a home-based essential oil business called doTERRA. I work from home and I am my own boss, which gives me the privilege to set my own working hours.
“Adam, now 18, is non-verbal, with severe Autism and ADHD. He is aggressive and suffers from meltdowns due to sensory processing disorder. Raising a child with Autism in general requires enormous level of patience and a huge portion of your time,” he said.
For Iman, his typical day starts very early because Adam wakes up early.
“I send my daughter to school. Come home and go out for breakfast with Adam and my wife before sending Adam to school. After that I get on my computer to check emails and respond to messages and inquiries. Then I review sales performance from the day before.
“We pick Adam up for lunch and pick up my daughter from school before heading home. After Adam is asleep at night, I go back to the computer and have meetings online, hold oiling classes and work on social media postings. I have some quiet time with my wife and go to bed about 12 am,” he shared.
The social media link
Iman also shares his typical days on his Instagram page @adamsautismfamily, including videos of Adam’s aggressive behaviors in public.
Iman said the page is a way to keep in touch with friends and family because he could not find the time to hang out with them anymore.
The page has ever since generated over 200,000 followers.
For Iman, his most difficult challenge after becoming a father is to find the time to make a living.
“I can’t build my career. I can’t compete in a normal job environment because I need to spend much time with my family. My travelling time and time away from home is very limited.
“I need to make more money to cover additional expenses needed for Adam’s school, therapy, diet and his future. My life revolves around Adam.”
His biggest lesson in fatherhood is learning to communicate with his children, especially Adam.
“How we are and the way we communicate with our kids can influence them in a big way. I have learned to communicate better with my children, and to have quality time with them. The moments and times we share with our kids will remain forever in their memories. I want to create as many memories as possible with my children,” he said.
He hopes that his children will always stay together and take care of one another.
“There are many families out there with autistic kids. First accept them, then grow with them. It’s ok to be abnormal. Rebuild a life around the child and learn to be patient,” he said.
For younger and newer dad, Iman only has three words, “Enjoy the ride!”
They are adorable, they are wise and they spoil us with love (and extra candies). That is why every child lucky enough to have felt the loving affections of their grandfathers will always think the world of them. With many grandparents also caring for their grandchildren, sometimes grandpas also play a fatherly role.
For Atan Derus, 64, his life has become more meaningful with the addition of his two grandchildren, Husna Muhammad Taufiq and Barack Muhammad Ashraf.
Even though Husna is only 10-months-old and Barack is 3-months-old, Atan is pretty sure his grandchildren love him right back.
“It’s their little gurgles of delight when they see me. That’s love,” he said.
Life changing experience
Atan said raising grandchildren, is pretty much similar to raising children.
“Fatherhood and grandfatherhood is pretty much the same for me. Children will be children no matter what era they are born in and in my opinion, they still need the same amount of attention and care.
“However, my children think I am much ‘softer’ on my grandkids,” he said.
Atan also said that apart from his life, so much has changed since the arrival of his two grandchildren.
“So much changed, I don’t even know where to begin. But I learnt to put the family;s needs before me. For example, when you are younger, all your resources are spent on yourself.
“When you are a dad and a granddad, you suddenly need to think about your partner, your children and their children. What kind of father or grandfather would you be if you buy new clothes every month but your child or grandchild can’t afford to buy books?,” he asked.
Atan added that life has also become busier for him but more interesting. He is learning new skills, such as how to take photos using smart phones.
“Now that I am retired, I help to care for my granddaughter. Sometimes I cook, because I enjoy doing that. I make sure I hear from all my children everyday, be it via text or call. I am learning how to take photos on my phone so I can capture my granddaughter’s special moments,” he said.
Transitioning between being a father and a grandfather
Atan said he has always been a very involved parent.
“I used to send my daughter to work until she was 28, but now I can’t drive long distances anymore. My children would say that I am overprotective, but that’s the only parenting way I know.
“It’s crazy, if you think about it – how your actions can directly and indirectly shape a person’s life, so I just have to give my best. I will not forgive myself if something goes wrong just because I do things half-heartedly.
‘Sometimes it’s very hard for me to just let go. For example when my daughter was studying in Penang I rode on the bus with her from KL to Penang, took a cab with her from the bus station, showed her the whole process. I’m sure she could just do it on her own. Youngsters nowadays are so much more resourceful and the information is all on their fingertips. But I have to make sure, and when I feel that she’s ready, I will let go.
“And I am very sure I will feel the same for when it’s time for my grandkids to leave the nests,” he said.
Atan said letting go is also the biggest lesson for him in fatherhood – he is preparing himself to do the same with his grandkids.
His only hope for his grandchildren is for them to get more and better opportunities than what he had when he was growing up.
His advice for newer or younger dads?
Atan said they should treat their kids or grandkids like friends.
“Be a friend. So your kids don’t feel there’s a distance and they can be more open in expressing their feelings,” he said.
A kid’s happy place
‘A godfather is a gift sent from above, a guardian angel that was chosen with love.’
This quote beautifully captures the role of a godfather in our lives. A father figure, and specially chosen for a child as a guide and supporter, a godfather is often the source of great joy for children lucky to have one.
Advin Lourdes, a project manager from Kuala Lumpur, can attest to this because he is a godfather that children love.
His two godsons – Mithiran Lourdes and Varun Lourdes – adore him so much they constantly ask their parents about his whereabouts.
He transforms himself into a kid when playing with them and shows his responsible self when teaching.
“Having no kids of my own, I had the opportunity to become a father figure to both boys. It created in me a sense of responsibility towards them. I feel proud to be a part of their lives and help shape their future,” he said.
Teaching through fun activities
As opposed to strict ‘classroom’ type activities that bore children, Advin chooses to keep learning fun with the kids through outdoor activities.
“Going on outings is the main highlight. They call me ‘periappa’, which literally translate to ‘big father’ in Tamil. So when ‘periappa’ is around, the fun begins. I become a human playground to my godchildren and their siblings.
*My older godson Mithiran, is known to be the brainy one who can sit a whole day and explain the solar system to me. He gets irritated when I give wrong answers to his questions! My younger godson Varun, is quite a chilled guy. He is very stylish, thanks to his mum,” he said.
Time is of the essence
Advin said although he would love to spend 24 hours with his godchildren, he could not find the time due to his busy working schedule.
“It’s challenging to make time for them when work or other responsibilities get in the way. That remains a challenge that I am trying to overcome by trying to find a balance.
“Another challenge is when the boys get a little too naughty. I don’t have the heart to scold them. Discipline is my wife’s territory as she is a teacher. I choose to be the lenient one hence, I stay out of the way when they’ve done something wrong. I wait to comfort them,” he said.
Advin added that because children are very honest, he learnt some lessons from his godchildren.
“I’ve learned from my godsons to answer truthfully and to never make a promise I cannot keep.
“My hope for them as their godfather is to see them and my other nephews and nieces grow up to be successful adults and enjoy their journey getting there,” he said.
Happy Father’s Day to all you dedicated daddies out there!