An outbreak of hand, foot, and mouth disease at a daycare center has prompted a Winnipeg mother to publicly warn other families after a serious infection sent her to the emergency room.
“I just (Manitobans) would like to know that it can be very serious for other people, even if your experience is not very serious. Even if you think your child will be fine after three or four days, it is very important that you stay home because your child is still contagious. Someone else can have a very negative result,” says Erica Bulow.
When she picked up her four-year-old daughter from a daycare in Island Lakes on June 30, Bulow was told that another child had been to daycare for three days while contagious with hand, foot, and mouth disease. Symptoms of the viral illness can take three days to a week to appear. They include fever, rash and blisters — which Bulow saw firsthand when her daughter developed itchy red patches on July 2.
Despite careful disinfection and distancing within their household, Bulow and her 10-month-old son also became infected and started experiencing more severe symptoms. Her son had a high fever and Bulow consulted with a pediatrician to care for both of her children, not expecting her to become seriously ill herself.
By July 4, her symptoms had worsened to numbness in her face, fingers, hands and toes. She was having trouble breathing and the blisters on her feet were so painful she couldn’t walk.
Her husband called an ambulance, and Bulow waited more than seven hours for the lone emergency room physician at St. Boniface Hospital. For more than five hours, she lay on a stretcher in the hallway, hooked up to an oxygen tank, while at least nine other patients waited in the hallway and a “continuous stream” of paramedics lined up to unload ambulance patients.
“At that point the oxygen tank was empty, but I could feel my fingers, toes and jaw again. The doctor said, ‘Well, we don’t really know what it is, it’s probably just a side effect of the hand, foot and mouth, it could be meningitis,’ Bulow said.
The disease can cause brain swelling and meningitis, but Bulow said the doctor was clearly too busy and therefore dismissive.
“There wasn’t much concern in the hospital about it. They were like, ‘Oh, hand, mouth-mouth is a little disease, it’s more of a nuisance than anything else.’”
The next day, she and her son saw a walk-in clinic doctor who confirmed they had serious infections from the disease.
Bulow was prescribed antibiotics over concerns that the virus had paved the way for a bacterial infection. She and her family are now improving, but Bulow wanted to share her experience to help others.
She said she had been told that all the children at the nursery were infected, as well as all their siblings. The outbreak has affected several families. Bulow is calling for clear public health communications about hand, foot and mouth disease, including specific quarantine guidelines and more information about the potential for people to get sicker if they were previously infected with COVID-19.
Her family contracted COVID-19 in April, also as a result of an infection at her daughter’s nursery.
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority did not respond this summer to a request for comment about the prevalence of hand, foot, and mouth disease in Winnipeg.