Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is an easily spread infection that is common in young children. However, adults can also be infected with this disease, and outbreaks are not uncommon on college campuses. The usual symptoms are fever, sores and a skin rash.
A Highly Contagious Viral Illness
Hand, foot and mouth disease is caused by a virus that lives inside the intestines. One of the reasons it is so contagious is that people who have the virus can spread the illness without being ill or showing symptoms. The disease gets its name from the sores in the mouth it causes and a rash that often develops on the hands, feet, and other parts of the body. The disease is most common during the summer and autumn months.
Most people recover from hand, foot and mouth disease within one to two weeks. Complications are usually rare, but in rare cases some patients can get viral meningitis or viral encephalitis, which can be very dangerous.
How the Disease Progresses
Hand, foot and mouth disease symptoms include fever, reduced appetite, sore throat, and a general feeling of malaise. Usually one or two days after the fever starts, painful sores can develop in the mouth. The sores often start in the back of the mouth as small red spots that blister (and can become ulcers). A skin rash, consisting of red spots (and sometimes blisters) also usually develops over one or two days on the palms of the hand and soles of the feet. It may also appear on the knees, elbows, buttocks or genital area.
Treatment and Prevention
Treatment is simple and focused on alleviating the symptoms. Be sure to contact your doctor if mouth sores or a sore throat keep your child from drinking fluids, or if your child’s symptoms worsen. Here are some tips on home treatment:
- Offer plenty of cool liquids to help soothe a sore throat. Ice cream and ice pops can also help.
- Avoid acidic and spicy foods such as salsa and orange juice that can make mouth sores more painful.
- Give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain and fever (do not use aspirin which can cause Reye syndrome)
The best way to prevent hand, foot and mouth disease is to practice good hygiene. This includes washing hands often, avoiding contact with those who are ill, and not sharing utensils and other items. It’s also important to keep children who are ill at home instead of at school or day care so the disease isn’t spread further.