A summer bug to be on the lookout for
It usually starts in a young child with a fever, sore throat and then painful blisters on the soles of feet, hands and in the mouth. This highly contagious virus tends to spread from person to person in the late summer and fall. This virus, named appropriately, is hand, foot and mouth. Most of us parents with preschool and school-aged children can recall this illness. I personally recall this illness in my older two children about three summers ago; not pleasant at all, but we got through it. Like most other early childhood illnesses, exposure is pretty much guaranteed. Read on to learn all about it.
Hand, foot and mouth (HFM) disease is a mild, contagious viral infection common in young children. It is characterized by sores in the mouth and a blister like rash on the hands and feet. It is most commonly caused by a coxsackievirus. HFM primarily affects children younger than age 10, often under 5 years. Children in day care centers and schools are especially susceptible to outbreaks because the infection spreads easily by person to person contact. Think about all the mouthing of toys and hands in the mouth, eyes, or nose type of scenarios that young children often find themselves in. Children usually develop immunity to HFM as they get older by building antibodies after exposure. It is possible, however, for adolescents and adults to get the disease, but most likely with a milder case or no symptoms at all. In my case, when my children had it, I had a headache and mild sore throat for a couple days.
The period from initial infection to the onset of signs and symptoms or the incubation period, is three to six days. A fever is often the first sign of HFM disease, followed by a sore throat and sometimes a poor appetite and a general unwell feeling. One or two days after the fever begins, painful sores may develop in the mouth or throat. A rash or blisters on the hands and soles of the feet and possibly on the buttocks can follow within one or two days. Like many other viral illnesses, there is no specific treatment other than to let it run its course. Antibiotics do not help, as it is a virus. Supportive treatments are the best way to ease discomfort. You can treat fever and discomfort with infant or children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Ice pops and cold liquids help with throat discomfort and to keep hydrated when appetite is decreased. Watch young children for signs of dehydration: decreased or very dark urine, lethargy, lack of tears while crying, sunken eyes or sunken fontanel in babies, dry tongue and lips; especially if they are refusing liquids due to mouth and throat discomfort. Signs and symptoms of HFM usually clear up in about 10 days. As the virus is cleared from the body, the sores will get smaller and less in number. Sometimes skin on the soles of feet can slough and peel as well. While my children had foot sores, I kept socks on their feet during the day, as these blisters may ooze. Frequent handwashing and avoiding close contact with people who are infected with HFM can help reduce your child’s risk of infection.
HFM is often confused with foot and mouth disease (also called hoof and mouth disease), which affects cows, sheep and pigs. Humans do not get the animal disease, and animals do not get the human disease (www.cdc.gov).
Contact your child’s pediatrician or other healthcare provider if your child is not drinking enough to stay hydrated, symptoms are not improving after 10 days, symptoms are severe or your child is younger than 6 months old. Remember to keep infected children home while symptoms are present.
Maria H. Drzaszcz, a Hammonton resident, is a registered nurse with 14 years critical care experience and is the proud mom of three young children.