Hand, foot and mouth disease is a mild illnessthat typically affects infants and children under the age of five, although it can sometimes occur in adults. Most children will fully recover from the disease within a week. Hand, foot and mouth disease is many times confused with foot-and-mouth disease, also called hoof-and-mouth disease, which is a disease of cattle, sheep and swine. The two diseases are caused by different viruses and are not in any way related, as humans will not get the animal disease and animals will not get the human disease.
What Causes Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease?
Hand, foot and mouth disease is caused by viruses belonging to the Enterovirus group which includes coxsackieviruses, echoviruses, enteroviruses and polioviruses. In America, the most common cause is Coxsackievirus A16. Other Coxsackieviruses and Enterovirus 71 arealso associated with the disease.
What Are the Symptoms of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease?
There are a number of symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease and they typically show up within three to six days of exposure, with a fever typically being the first sign. Symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Painful red lesions that look like blisters on the gums, tongue or insides of cheeks
- A red rash on the palms of hands, soles of feet, and sometimes the buttocks
- Loss of appetite
- Irritability in infants and toddlers
When to See a Doctor
Thoughit is usually a minor disease, you should see your doctor if the sores in the mouth prevent you or your child from swallowing fluids or if the symptoms worsen after a few days.
Is Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease Serious?
Hand, foot and mouth disease is not usually that serious. The fever and rash will usually disappear within a few days. The mouth ulcers can be painful and can last up to a week and may make a child irritable for a few days. In a very small number of cases, the virus can affect the heart, lungs or brain, causing serious inflammation which can be fatal. There can also be serious complications such as viral meningitis.
Is Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease Infectious?
Hand, foot and mouth disease is highly infectious. The incubation period is three to five days, meaning it takes 3-5 days to develop symptoms after being infected from someone else who has it. Most cases are passed on by coughing and sneezing which transmits the virus through the air. It is mainly infectious until the spots and mouth ulcers have gone, but young children can remain mildly infectious for up to a few weeks after being sick. Small outbreaks can occur in nurseries and schools. The virus may be passed on through the feces (stools) for several weeks after the symptoms have gone, so it is important to maintain good hygiene to reduce the chance of infecting the virus. Make sure to take the actions below to reduce the chances of infection.
- Make sure that children wash their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom.
- Keep mouth and nose covered when sneezing or coughing and wipe the nose and mouth with a tissue.
- Adults should be careful when handling disposable diapers and used tissues and thoroughly wash hands after handling.
- Soiled bedding, towels, clothes, etc. should be washed on the hottest cycle in the washing machine.
- Do not share eating utensils, cups, etc. while sick with hand, foot and mouth disease.
- Do not deliberately break blisters as the fluid contained within is infectious.
How to Treat Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease
There is no cure for hand, foot and mouth disease as it is caused by a virus, but there are a number of things you can do at home to ensure the comfort of you or your child until the disease runs its course. A special mouthwash can be mixed by pharmacists to help children relieve the pain while swallowing when they eat or drink. And it is very important to stay hydrated. Cold foods such as popsicles and ice cream can be effective in numbing the affected mouth.
You can take or give your child ibuprofen or acetaminophen for any pain or discomfort, but do not use aspirin, because for young children and teens who are sick caused by a virus, the use of aspirin can lead to Reye Syndrome. Areas with blisters should be kept clean, dry and uncovered. Wash with soap and then pat the skin dry. If any blisters pop, cover the area with antibiotic ointment and cover with a bandage to prevent further infection. Call your doctor if the illness persists or gets worse.