close up of baby's feet on a colorful quilt

Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease

“Hand-foot-and-mouth disease” sounds like a scary term. Many caretakers become concerned when they hear their child’s pediatrician utter these words. In reality, hand-foot-and-mouth disease is a very mild type of illness that is not a major cause for concern. Although it is highly contagious and is common amongst young children, significant health complications are rare.

Symptoms:
• Hand-foot-and-mouth usually begins with a fever, sore throat, or general feeling of fatigue.
• One or two days after the fever begins, blister-like bumps appear on the hands, feet, and around or inside of the mouth or throat. Bumps may have a small bubble of fluid on top, and will eventually become dry and crusty.
• Not all children will present with bumps to all three areas, and children may even have blister-like bumps on other places of the body besides the hand, feet, or mouth.
• The bumps are painful; painful sores in the mouth may result in loss of appetite, followed by dehydration if the child refuses liquids.

Quick facts:
• Hand-foot-and-mouth is caused by a virus.
• It is usually seen in young children, less than five years of age. Older children and adults can carry the disease and spread it to others, but will not experience any symptoms.
• Hand-foot-and-mouth goes away on its own within a few days.
• Hand-foot-and-mouth is very contagious, and is easily spread in school or childcare settings. It is spread through bodily fluids and through fluid inside of the blisters.
• Due to the highly contagious nature of the illness, many daycares and schools will require that your child be seen by a doctor before they can return to school.
• Hand-foot-and-mouth is part of a common group of viruses that lives in the digestive tract. This type of virus can also cause mild flu-like symptoms or a type of throat infection called herpangina. All of these types of illness are usually mild and go away on their own.

Treatment:
• See your child’s pediatrician for diagnosis and for further recommendations to manage discomfort. The virus itself cannot be treated directly with medication.
• Give children’s Tylenol or ibuprofen as directed for pain (Note that aspirin should never be given to children under 12 years of age).
• Ensure that your child is drinking enough liquids to prevent dehydration.
• Offer cold foods to help numb the area; your child will be more likely to eat and drink cold foods .
• Seek medical care if your child begins showing signs of dehydration, such as a dry tongue and mouth, lack of tears when crying, lack of wet diapers , or sunken eyes.

Prevent spreading:
• Practice good hand washing to avoid spreading hand-foot-and-mouth to other children in your household, especially after changing diapers or using the bathroom.
• Clean and sanitize any toys that your child may have put in their mouth.
• Avoid sharing utensils, cups, and bottles .

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is yet another cause to teach children good hand hygiene, which is the easiest way to prevent most common childhood illnesses.

Kelsey Sorvick is a registered nurse at Penfield Children’s Center.

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