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'Tis the Season for Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

Written by Debra Luben, M.D. on Oct 11, 2017 4:00:00 PM

It usually starts with a tired or cranky child. A sore throat sometimes follows and then there's a fever. Up until this point, most parents believe their child has a cold. Then they notice a rash on the body or blisters in or around the mouth. If your child is experiencing these symptoms, especially in early fall, you may have a case of hand, foot and mouth disease on your hands. 

A Seasonal Illness

It's no secret that some illnesses are prevalent during certain times of the year, like seasonal flu. You have also likely heard people refer to their seasonal allergies. Hand, foot and mouth disease is another seasonal illness with cases spiking from spring to early fall. This is because the illness is caused by an enterovirus that thrives in warm weather. 

It usually starts with a fever. One or two days after the fever starts, painful sores can develop in the mouth. The mouth sores begin, often in the back of the mouth, as small red spots that blister and can become ulcers that make it difficult to swallow even liquids, which may lead to dehydration. A skin rash with red spots, and sometimes with blisters, may also develop over one or two days on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, knees, elbows, buttocks or genital area. Some patients with hand, foot and mouth disease may experience no symptoms at all.

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A Contagious Disease

The most common sufferers of hand, foot and mouth disease are children under 5 and is most common in children in daycare and other child care settings because of frequent diaper changes, potty training and young children putting their hands in their mouths.

But that doesn’t mean adults are immune. Because the illness is viral, it can easily spread from person to person through coughing, sneezing, contact with blister fluid or the feces of an infected person. Often times, when adults are infected with hand, foot and mouth disease, they’ve contracted it from a child they are caring for. Hugging, kissing, tending to, sharing utensils and dishes or changing a diaper for a child who has this sickness are all ways the virus can be transmitted from that child to you. If your child has hand, foot and mouth disease, the best way to lower your risk of infection is by washing your hands often with soap and water, disinfecting dirty surfaces and soiled items, and avoiding close contact with anybody who is infected. This means all utensils, dishes and cups should be kept separate and thoroughly washed and sanitized between uses.

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Waiting It Out

Because hand, foot and mouth disease is a viral infection, there isn't much that can be done to make it better apart from waiting it out. During this time, there are things you can do to ease the discomfort that symptoms cause. Because hand, foot and mouth disease tends to manifest in a sore throat, avoid acidic or spicy foods and drinks. These substances can aggravate an already-sore throat. Instead, stick with cool water, apple juice, flavored ice pops or ice cream to help ease the pain. Over-the-counter creams and prescription medication can be given to ease some of the irritation caused by the blisters and rashes. Talk to your doctor to see what they recommend for you or your child. Acetaminophen can be given for fever, but make sure you speak with your physician first to see what dosage they recommend based on your or your child's personal health. While waiting it out can be rough, hang in there. The symptoms usually disappear within a week, but get your child in to see the doctor if they’ve stopped drinking liquids or symptoms worsen. 

Dr. Debra Luben is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Main Campus clinic. Her clinical interests are centered on preventive medicine and wellness.

Topics: rash, ulcers, hand, foot and mouth disease, contagious

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