Hand, foot and mouth disease

The cold weather is over, along with those winter viruses, hurrah! But not so fast- you may still need to keep an eye out for hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD), a viral infection most common in the summer and fall. There isn’t a vaccine to prevent the disease and there are limited treatment options, but you can take steps to reduce your family’s risk.

HFMD is caused by the Coxsackie virus. It is most often seen in infants and children younger than 10 years of age.

Signs and symptoms of HFMD include a fever and small painful sores in your child’s mouth, on the tongue and inside the cheeks. You may also see a rash, often with blisters on the hands and soles of the feet. Your child may experience headaches and loss of appetite, too.

Some children may have the virus and not show any symptoms at all, but they can still pass the virus on to others. HFMD can be spread through coughing, sneezing or contact with feces, especially when changing diapers.

What to expect

Your child’s provider will conduct a physical exam and evaluate your child’s symptoms. The provider may test specimens from the throat or stools and may test your child’s blood or urine to see if your child has the virus.

There is no specific treatment for HFMD, however medications such as acetaminophen may be taken to manage HFMD symptoms. Usually, your child’s fever will last 2 to 3 days and the mouth sores will heal in 7 days. The rash on the hands and feet can last 10 days and will then start to peel. It is important for children with HFMD to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Your child may be dehydrated if she has fewer than six wet diapers in 24 hours, sunken eyes, or lack of tears when crying.

Nearly all patients recover from HFMD in 7 to 10 days without medical treatment. On occasion, complications do arise, which may become serious quickly. Call your child’s provider if you think your child is dehydrated, has a fever for more than 3 days or if you think her symptoms are getting worse.

Protection and prevention

• Make sure you and your family wash your hands frequently, especially after changing diapers.
• Avoid contact with anyone who is infected with the virus.
• If your child does get HFMD, keep her out of school, day care and swimming pools for the first few days of her illness.
• Be patient. It will only be a matter of time before your child is back to enjoying her summer.