Last updated on October 20th, 2022 at 07:28 am
Hand foot and mouth disease, or HFMD, is an infectious viral illness that affects both children and adults. It causes sores on hands, feet and mouth.
What are hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD)?
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Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a highly contagious infection. It’s caused by viruses from the Enterovirus genus, most commonly the coxsackievirus. These viruses can spread from person-to-person through direct contact with unwashed hands or surfaces contaminated with faeces. It can also be transmitted through contact with an infected person’s saliva, stool, or respiratory secretions.
Hand, foot, and mouth disease are characterised by blisters or sores in the mouth and a rash on the hands and feet. The infection can affect people of all ages, but it usually occurs in children under age 5.
Hand foot and mouth disease symptoms
The symptoms develop three to seven days after the initial infection. This period is known as the incubation period. When symptoms do appear, you or your child may experience;
- a fever,
- a poor appetite
- a sore throat
- a headache,
- painful, red blisters on the mouth
- a red rash on the hands and the soles of the feet
A fever and sore throat are usually the first symptoms of hand, foot, and mouth disease. The characteristic blisters and rashes show up later, usually one or two days after the fever begins.
Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD) in Kids
Occasionally, a pink rash may be seen in other parts of the body, such as the buttocks and thighs. However, some kids will have no problems other than sores in the back of the throat.
It can be hard for parents to tell if a child (especially a very young one) has HFM if sores are only inside the mouth or throat. Very young kids might not communicate that they have a sore throat, but if a child stops eating or drinking, or wants to eat or drink less often, it’s a sign that something is wrong.
A child with HFM also might:
- have a fever, muscle aches, or other flu-like symptoms
- become irritable or sleep more than usual
- begin drooling (because of painful swallowing)
- only want to drink cold fluids
Hand foot and mouth disease causes
Hand, foot, and mouth disease is often caused by a strain of coxsackievirus, most commonly coxsackievirus A16. The coxsackievirus is part of a group of viruses called enteroviruses. Sometimes, other types of enteroviruses can cause hand, foot, and mouth disease.
Viruses can be easily spread from person-to-person. You or your child may contract hand, foot, and mouth disease through contact with an infected person’s:
- fluid from blisters
- respiratory droplets sprayed into the air after coughing or sneezing
Hand, foot, and mouth disease can also be transmitted through direct contact with unwashed hands or a surface containing traces of the virus.
Hand foot and mouth disease complications
The most common complication of hand-foot-and-mouth disease is dehydration. The illness can cause sores in the mouth and throat, making swallowing painful.
Watch closely to make sure your child frequently sips fluid during the illness. If dehydration is severe, intravenous (IV) fluids may be necessary.
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is usually a minor illness, causing only a few days of fever and relatively mild signs and symptoms. A rare and sometimes serious form of the coxsackievirus can involve the brain and cause other complications:
- Viral meningitis. This is a rare infection and inflammation of the membranes (meninges) and cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
- Encephalitis. This severe and potentially life-threatening disease involves brain inflammation caused by a virus. Encephalitis is rare.
Hand foot and mouth disease treatment
A doctor can usually diagnose an HFMD diagnosis by conducting a physical examination.
They might look for sores or blisters on the feet, hands, and genitals. They may also check for other common symptoms that occur alongside the sores.
Sometimes, a lab test may be needed to confirm a diagnosis. Doctors may look for related antibodies or viral materials in the blood or collect throat and stool samples for examination.
There is no cure and no specific treatment for HFMD.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications can help to relieve pain and fever in some people.
Hand foot and mouth disease prevention
Certain precautions can help to reduce the risk of infection with hand-foot-and-mouth disease:
- Wash hands carefully. Be sure to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, especially after using the toilet or changing a diaper and before preparing food and eating. When soap and water aren’t available, use hand wipes or gels treated with germ-killing alcohol.
- Disinfect common areas. Get in the habit of cleaning high-traffic areas and surfaces first with soap and water, then with a diluted solution of chlorine bleach and water. Childcare centres should follow a strict schedule of cleaning and disinfecting all common areas, including shared items such as toys, as the virus can live on these objects for days. Clean your baby’s pacifiers often.
- Teach good hygiene. Show your children how to practise good hygiene and how to keep themselves clean. Explain to them why it’s best not to put their fingers, hands, or any other objects in their mouths.
- Isolate contagious people. Because hand-foot-and-mouth disease is highly contagious, people with the illness should limit their exposure to others while they have active signs and symptoms. Keep children with hand-foot-and-mouth disease out of childcare or school until fever is gone and mouth sores have healed. If you have the illness, stay home from work.
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