Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease has a scary ring to it, and it can definitely be a nightmare for your child if they have the misfortune of contracting the virus. Luckily, it’s not life-threatening and your child will be back to their normal self in just a couple weeks. Still, as a parent, you want to be informed about any illness your child or a child you care for might have. Here’s what you need to know about Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease, how it is spread, and how it is treated.
What is Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease (HFMD)?
Not to be confused with foot-and-mouth disease (which only affects cows, sheep, and pigs), hand-foot-and-mouth disease, or HFMD, is a highly-contagious viral disease that most commonly affects children under the age of 10. Adults can still contract the disease, although it will most likely be a mild version. HFMD is caused by viruses of the Enterovirus family, among which the Coxsackievirus A16 is the most prevalent in the United States. Unlike the flu virus, it is most common to catch during the summer and fall. Again, while it’s not very serious, it can be miserable for the infected person.
What are the Symptoms of HFMD?
HFMD is the most contagious during the first week, and ironically, it can take up to one week after exposure to the virus for symptoms to start showing. Below is the typical timeline for an HFMD infection:
- Day 1: The first symptoms to appear are usually a high fever and a sore throat.
- Day 2: You may notice that your child isn’t eating or drinking like usual or complaining that it hurts to swallow. This is due to the painful sores that start to form in the mouth, often in the back of the throat or on the tongue. They grow and become painful blisters or ulcers.
- Day 3: Check the hands and soles of your child’s feet as they may have flat, red, and very painful blisters.
- They could possibly develop a similar rash in the genital region, buttocks area, or around the knees and elbows. Additionally, your child may experience symptoms such as loss of appetite, headache, and malaise.
- Fortunately for some people, they will never experience any symptoms. Unfortunately for most of us, they are still able to transmit the virus to someone else.
It is important to keep your child home from school, daycare, or lessons if they are showing any of these symptoms. Because it is highly contagious amongst children in close quarters, schools and daycares are especially at risk.
You can find out if your child has HFMD for sure by coming to our offices at Bard & Didriksen Pediatrics, where we will physically exam your child and run the proper tests to confirm the diagnosis and provide advice on how to help your child get through it.
How is HFMD Transmitted?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HFMD is transmitted and spread from person-to-person through contact with any bodily fluid of an infected person, such as:
- Having close contact with an infected person, like kissing, hugging, sharing eating utensils, etc.
- Breathing in airborne fluid droplets after an infected person coughs or sneezes
- Touching contaminated objects or surfaces, such as toys, handles, technology, then making contact with your eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Coming into contact with infected feces. For example, you might change diapers or help your child on the toilet and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
How can I prevent my child from getting HFMD?
The basic hygiene and precautions that are recommended to avoid the flu and most other viruses are the same recommended for HFMD:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with hot water and soap.
- Teach your child and help them learn how and when to wash their hands.
- Disinfect commonly touched surfaces or objects.
- Stay away from people who are contagious.
- Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes.
- Don’t share drinking cups or eating utensils.
How is HFMD treated?
Because it is a viral infection, there is no treatment specific to HFMD and there is no vaccine. The best you can do is help your child by relieving some of the symptoms.
- Provide over-the-counter medications (except aspirin) to relieve the fever and the pain caused by the painful ulcers in the mouth.
- Because it may hurt for your child to swallow, make sure they are getting enough fluids and staying hydrated.
- Speak with your doctor or dentist to see if there are any numbing mouthwashes or gels that you can safely give to your children to help minimize pain.
- Monitor your child to keep them from scratching at their blisters, which could lead to infection.
If your child is not better after 10-14 days, then it’s time to see a doctor. Most people, even children, have no complications, but it is possible to progress into something much more serious requiring hospitalization.
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is definitely no walk in the park, but it’s likely the symptoms will resolve themselves within a couple of weeks. In the meantime, do what you can to alleviate some of your child’s pain and keep him hydrated.
Visit Bard & Didriksen Pediatrics in Glen Carbon, IL for an examination and more treatment suggestions or to answer your questions.