At first, the symptoms were mild. “She just seemed off,” says Ellen Rapier of her 3-year-old daughter, who was uncharacteristically tired and irritable. When the little girl woke up crying in the middle of the night a few days later, it was clear to Ellen what was wrong: “I saw the blisters on her hands, and I was certain that she had Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease,” she says. A call to the doctor the next morning confirmed Ellen’s suspicions.
Who is most likely to get Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD)?
It can infect people of all ages, but HMFD is most common in children under age 5, according to Dr Mark Gettleman, a paediatrician in private practice. “Most kids get it, and they can get it more than once, because there are so many strains,” he adds.
What are the symptoms of the illness?
The main symptoms are a fever, sore throat, skin rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, and the telltale blisters, which usually show up in the mouth and on the hands, feet and legs. The blisters generally start as small white or red spots and then turn into ulcers.
What causes Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease?
HFMD is typically caused by the Coxsackievirus, a type of Enterovirus. Although the virus isn’t usually dangerous, it’s very contagious. “It goes around daycares and spreads like wildfire,” says Dr Gettleman. The blisters and other symptoms are usually gone within 10 days, but the virus can be contagious for much longer — up to eight weeks after the illness is contracted. However, he says that since HFMD is most contagious during the first week of the illness, most doctors say that children can return to school after their sores are gone.
How is the virus spread?
It spreads through bodily fluids such as saliva. “Kids stop swallowing their saliva because their throat hurts, and they drool on toys and their hands,” explains Dr Gettleman. That’s why HMFD spreads so easily in daycare centres. The virus can also spread to a caregiver’s hands during nappy changes, so it’s important to be sure that your child’s caregiver practices excellent hand washing hygiene.
How is Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease treated?
It’s a virus, so there’s no medicine that will cure HFMD. But, there are ways that you can help your child be more comfortable while you wait it out, including:
1. Treat fevers with over-the-counter pain relievers. Bringing your child’s fever down can make her more comfortable. (As a reminder, always call your doctor if your baby under age 3 months has a fever, if your child over 3 months old is acting weak or the fever persists for longer than three days, or if your child’s fever is over 40ºC.)
2. Keep your child well-hydrated. “The mouth sores make it hard to swallow, because it hurts,” explains Dr Gettleman. “But with the high fever, you really need to keep them hydrated.” Encourage your child to drink as much water and milk as possible.
3. Avoid salty or acidic drinks. Acidic liquids like citric juice or salty drinks like Pedialyte are normally good for helping your child stay hydrated, but these beverages can irritate his mouth sores.
Are there any complications of the virus?
In very rare cases, HFMD can cause febrile seizures or meningitis, says Dr Baxter.
What are some ways to avoid Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease?
HFMD is most common in summer, since the virus flourishes in warm weather. The best way to avoid it is to teach your child proper handwashing techniques and make sure that caregivers wash their hands and the toys your child plays with regularly. And, if your child does catch the disease, be respectful of other families by keeping her home until her symptoms are gone.
More health issues in kids:
- Everything You Need to Know About Fevers
- Everything You Need to Know About Strep Throat
- Everything You Need to Know About Ear Infections