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April 17, 2017 | Family Medicine
Several diseases are more common in young children, and one example is hand, foot and mouth disease. Most often caused by a type of enterovirus called coxsackie virus, hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is a mild—but contagious—viral infection that leads to sores in the mouth and a rash on the hands and feet.
No specific treatment exists for HFMD, but there are several tactics you can take to reduce your child’s risk of infection. Here’s a look at the common signs and causes of HFMD and how you can help protect your child.
HFMD usually affects infants and children under 5 years old, although it’s possible for it to be present in older children or adults. Early symptoms include:
General feeling of malaise
Within a day or two after the fever, a few more symptoms may develop:
Painful sores in the mouth—often beginning in the back of the mouth as small red spots that progress into blisters and ulcers.
Skin rash with red spots, and sometimes blisters, may develop. Affected areas include palms, soles of the feet, knees, elbows, buttocks or genitals.
Dehydration: Painful mouth sores can cause an inability to intake enough liquid.
In most cases, HFMD is an illness that lasts for a few days with relatively minor symptoms. If mouth sores keep your child from drinking, or if symptoms get worse after a few days, contact your doctor. Complications from HFMD include:
Viral meningitis: An infection/inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord—caused by a rare form of the coxsackievirus.
Encephalitis: A severe and potentially life-threatening disease involving brain inflammation—also caused by the coxsackievirus.
Coxsackievirus is the most common cause of HFMD, though other types of enteroviruses can also cause it. HFMD is spread by person-to-person contact, mainly through oral ingestion. You can also spread the disease through:
Nasal secretions or throat discharge
Fluid from blisters
Droplets sprayed into the air when coughing or sneezing
Children in child care facilities are at especially high risk of HFMD. Most children build immunity to HFMD over time, though it’s still possible for older children or even adults to get the disease. The virus can remain in children for weeks even after symptoms are gone.
There is no set treatment or vaccine for HFMD. Some people use over-the-counter medications for pain or mouthwashes or spray for numbing. Most cases of HFMD clear up in a week to 10 days. A few home remedies that help some people with pain and blister soreness in the mouth include:
Sucking on ice pops or ice chips
Eating ice cream or sherbet
Avoid acidic foods or drinks and salty or spicy foods
Drink cold beverages
Eat soft foods that don’t require you to chew much
Rinse your mouth with warm water after meals
Swish with warm salt water
A few basic precautions can help prevent the spread of HFMD:
Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after using the toilet or other possibly dirty items.
Clean and disinfect surfaces your child frequently touches, including toys.
Avoid close contact with people who have HFMD.
I practice the full range of family medicine including obstetrics, pediatrics, adolescent medicine and adult medicine. I also practice some orthopedics, remove lumps and bumps, and perform colposcopy, cryotherapy and vasectomies. Due to the volume of deliveries we do, my practice has evolved to be more centered on women and children’s medicine, but I enjoy all aspects of family medicine.
“About Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hand-foot-mouth/about/index.html
“Hand-foot-and-mouth disease.” The Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hand-foot-and-mouth-disease/basics/definition/con-20032747
The Live Better Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.