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Health and Fitness News

Hand, Foot, and Mouth

What you should know about this common childhood virus

It’s a virus that normally only young children get, but sometimes older kids and adults are infected as well. Hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD) is characterized by fever, skin rash on the hands and feet, and sores in the mouth. Sometimes the rash and sores are painful, but it’s generally a mild infection. Usually over in a week or so, hand-foot-and-mouth disease is most common during the summer and fall months.

And while it sounds similar, this virus is not to be confused with foot-and-mouth disease, also known as hoof-and-mouth disease or mad cow disease, a virus that affects sheep, cattle, and pigs. The two viruses are completely different. Animals can’t get the human virus and visa versa.

Here are a few facts you should know about HFMD.

An Enterovirus

Most commonly caused by the coxsackievirus A16, part of the nonpolio enterovirus family, hand-foot-and-mouth disease is highly contagious. Share toys, touch doorknobs, or inhale sneeze droplets of an infected person and you’re likely to come down with the virus. Daycares often experience breakouts since the illness is spread through contact with nasal secretions, coughs, saliva, stool, and blister discharge.

After exposure it takes three to six days to experience symptoms. Though an infected person is most contagious during the first week of illness, the virus stays in the body for weeks after symptoms go away. During this time, the virus can still be spread. Making it more difficult to handle is the fact that adults may get the virus and pass it on without ever having symptoms of their own. Thankfully, as you age, your body should develop immunity to the disease.

Fever and Blisters

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease often begins with feeling tired and irritable. Soon a sore throat and fever develop. After a day or two you’ll notice blisters or painful sores break out in or around the mouth. These could be inside the cheeks or on the gums or tongue. A non-itchy rash that turns into blisters is typically seen on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, or bottom. In a few days the blisters burst and crust over. Symptoms may be mild to severe and typically last a week to 10 days.

Because the mouth sores may make it painful to swallow, kids with HFMD are at risk for dehydration. Therefore, make sure your child continues to sip on fluids while sick.

Home Care Remedies

Being a virus, there’s little to be done to treat hand-foot-and-mouth disease. Call your doctor if your child’s symptoms are severe or seem to be worsening. Also call if the painful sores keep your child from ingesting adequate fluids.
The best thing you can do for someone with HFMD is to relieve symptoms with home care and over-the-counter pain relievers. To bring down a fever and alleviate the pain of blisters, give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and apply topical oral anesthetics to painful mouth sores.

Additionally, you’ll want to offer cool liquids to drink, popsicles or ice cubs to suck on, and ice cream to soothe painful mouths. Soft, bland foods that are easy to chew are best to eat, so stock up on them for your little patient. Avoid offering spicy or acidic foods and drinks like soda, fruit juice, or citrus, which may cause more pain to the blisters. After each meal, have your child swish around warm salt water in his or her mouth to help heal the sores.

Keep It to Yourself

When HFMD is in your household, be thoughtful of others and limit the spread of the disease by practicing good hygiene. Keep hands clean by washing them frequently—both your own hands and those of your child. And remember to always wash hands after changing a diaper or coming in contact with sores or blisters. Infected kids shouldn’t share toys or put their mouths on toys. If they do, take away the toys and wash them thoroughly before allowing others to play with them