5 Q&As about hand, foot and mouth disease

November 09, 2018 | by Darius Radvila, D.O.
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

Painful mouth sores and an itchy rash on the hands or feet mark an illness dreaded by parents — hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD).

A common contagious illness caused by different viruses, HFMD typically affects infants and children under age 5, but older kids and adults can catch it as well. Still, the virus tends to be harder on kids than adults, and the first time is often the worst. Fortunately, HFMD is usually not serious.

Also, you can’t get HFMD from a pet or animal, and your pet can’t get it from you. Some animals get a different disease that humans don’t get, called hoof-and-mouth disease, which affects cattle, sheep and pigs.

Let’s review answers to 5 common questions about hand, foot and mouth disease:

  1. How is it spread?

    Hand, foot and mouth disease is especially common in late summer and early fall, although it can occur anytime. It spreads by casual contact, through saliva, mucus, stool, or blister fluid of someone who is infected. Children are generally most contagious during the first week of illness and, unfortunately, they can spread HFMD even if they don’t have symptoms.

  2. What are the first signs?

    It takes 3-6 days for the first symptoms to show up after your child is exposed to HFMD. The first signs are usually fever, sore throat and runny nose. Then, a rash with tiny blisters may show up in the mouth, on the inner cheeks, gums, sides of the tongue, top of the mouth, fingers, palms of the hands, soles of the feet and/or buttocks. These symptoms usually appear in stages, not all at once. For some kids, the rash can spread throughout the body. Symptoms are the worst in the first few days, and the virus usually runs its course in a week or so.

  3. How can you help your child cope with the discomfort?

    Unfortunately, there isn’t medicine to treat or cure HFMD. The rash usually doesn’t bother children, although as it clears up, it can become dry and itchy. Your child’s doctor may recommend ways to ease discomfort, such as:

    • Over-the-counter children’s fever reducers and pain relievers
    • Liquid mouth-soothing remedies to ease mouth ulcer pain
    • Over-the-counter children’s moisturizing lotion to relieve itching
    • Keeping your child hydrated with plenty of cold liquids (your child may not want to drink if the mouth sores hurt them, but staying hydrated is important)
    • Avoiding acidic or spicy foods and beverages (e.g., orange juice) that burn the mouth — try popsicles instead

  4. When can your child can go back to school or child care?

    Your child’s doctor should be the one to advise you, but he/she can generally return to school or child care when he/she is:

    • Fever-free for 24 hours
    • Feeling well enough to participate in class
    • Free from open blisters

    If your child’s fever lasts for more than three days or if she/he appears dehydrated, call your doctor.

  5. How can you reduce the risk of hand, foot and mouth disease?

Clean, rinse and sanitize toys and disinfect any surfaces your child touches frequently, such as doorknobs and counters. Always wash your hands after changing diapers and before preparing food. Teach your children (and everyone in the household) to:

  • Keep their hands away from their eyes, nose or mouth (where viruses enter the body).
  • Wash their hands regularly with soap and water, especially:
    • Before eating
    • After using the bathroom
    • After blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing
    • After being outside or touching objects or surfaces
    • After visiting sick friends or relatives
  • Cough or sneeze in a tissue or on their arm sleeve, not in their hands.
  • Avoid sharing food, drinks and personal items, such as cups, eating utensils, toothbrushes or towels.

Hand, foot and mouth disease affects anyone from kids to parents. Practicing good handwashing is one of the best ways for you and your family to stay healthy.

Learn more about children’s services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Need a primary care doctor for your child? Edward-Elmhurst Health has hundreds of board-certified physicians to choose from. You can book online today to set up your first appointment.

Related blogs:

Wash those hands; save yourself a trip to the doctor’s office

When to keep your child home from school

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