With the recent outbreak of Hand-Foot and Mouth (HFM) Disease in our community, it is likely that you’ve heard of this illness. HFM Disease is a common contagious illness caused by viruses, most commonly the Coxsackie virus, that produces small painful ulcers/sores in or on the mouth, small blisters or red spots on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and on the webs between the fingers and toes. Sometimes lesions may occur on the buttocks and legs.
HFM Disease is common in children younger than 10, but the infection can occur in people of any age. It can occur at any time of the year but is most commonly found in the summer and fall. HFM Disease should not be confused with hoof and mouth disease, which is a totally unrelated illness that occurs in barnyard animals and livestock.
The symptoms of Hand-Foot and Mouth Disease may begin with a child feeling tired. They may complain of a sore throat, and have a fever of around 101-103. In one to two days, they may develop sores or blisters in or on the mouth, hands and feet. Sometimes a skin rash may appear before the blisters. The blisters may break open and crust over, usually disappearing in about a week or more. Those with the disease may develop muscle aches or flu-like symptoms, become irritable, begin drooling due to painful swallowing and may desire cold soothing liquids.
Hand-Foot and Mouth Disease spreads by person-to-person contact with an infected person’s nasal secretions or throat discharge, saliva, stool, respiratory droplets sprayed into the air after sneezing or coughing, or contact with fluid from blisters. It commonly occurs in childcare settings because of frequent diaper changes and potty training, in addition to the fact that little children often put their hands in their mouth. The virus can also be spread by close personal contact like kissing or hugging, in addition to touching objects or surfaces that have the virus on them. HFM Disease is most contagious during the first week of a person’s illness, but the virus can be spread even weeks after the symptoms have gone away because the virus can stay in the feces for weeks. Some people who may have the disease and show no symptoms can also spread the virus without knowing it.
There is no specific treatment for HFM Disease. The disease will run its course. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used to ease the pain and fever. Aspirin should not be used because it can cause a serious illness called Reye Syndrome. “Magic mouthwash,” a mixture made by the pharmacist can be dabbed on the mouth to help ease the pain. A home remedy mixing ½ teaspoon of antacid solution (such as Maalox or Mylanta) with ½ teaspoon of Benadryl can also be applied to the inside of the lips/mouth and before feedings. Citrus fruits, fruit drinks, sodas, spicy and salty foods should be avoided. Offer plenty of cool fluids to help with the sore throat, and cold foods such as flavored ice pops, ice chips, sherbet and ice cream. Soft foods that don’t require much chewing may also be tolerated. After meals, rinsing your mouth with warm water may be helpful.
Although there is no vaccine to protect against HFM Disease, you can reduce the risk of getting the illness by washing your hands often, especially after changing diapers, avoiding close contact (like hugging and kissing) with people who are infected and thoroughly cleaning objects and surfaces that may be contaminated.
If you develop symptoms, your doctor will likely be able to distinguish HFM Disease from other types of infections.
This is Dr. Beryl Bachus-Keith reminding you that prevention is the key to good health and wellness, so make a vow and commit to good health. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”