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Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease In Children

Hand, foot and mouth disease is one disease that is hardly understood, even though it commonly affects young children. Learn what it is and how to identify it in young children.

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease In Children

Hand, foot and mouth disease is one disease that is hardly understood, even though it commonly affects young children. Learn what it is and how to identify it in young children.

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a contagious infection that is common in childhood. The condition is common among infants and toddlers up to five years of age. Adults and older children can also get infected with the virus but in rare cases.

Coxsackievirus A16 and enterovirus A71 are the main viruses that cause hand, foot, and mouth disease. The characteristics of the infection are rash and sores on hands, mouth, and feet and hence the name.

Symptoms of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Infection

The incubation period of the virus is between three and six days after which it goes away on its own. The first sign of the infection is fever then an inflamed throat, and other symptoms follow after two to three days.

The following are symptoms of hand, foot, and mouth disease. You may notice all the symptoms or some of them from an infected child.

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Painful blisters inside the mouth in the cheeks, on the tongue, and gums.
  • Rash on the palms, the soles, and on rare occasion on the buttocks
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability

When Should You Visit Your Doctor?

Usually, the infection is mild, with a few non-severe symptoms. But, if you notice the mouth sores are severe and interfering with your child’s feeding, it is time to visit your local GP or doctor. If you see the symptoms are getting worse and causing severe irritability, consult your doctor for advice.

What is the Cause of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?

Coxsackievirus A16 and enterovirus A71are the most common causes of hand, foot, and mouth disease. On rare occasion, other viruses in the group of enterovirus can also cause hand, foot, and mouth infection.

All viruses are contagious, and coxsackievirus virus-causing hand, foot, and mouth disease are not exceptional. Anyone can contract the infection through various ways from an infected person.

The infection can spread by getting in contact with the following from an infected person:

  • Saliva
  • Throat discharge and nasal secretions
  • Respiratory secretions through coughing and sneezing
  • Blister fluid
  • Stool

The infection is passed from an infected person to a healthy person orally through ingestion. Therefore, touching surfaces with some traces of coxsackievirus and using the same hands to eat without washing can pass the infection.

Are Children at High Risk of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?

Yes, children are more risky to getting infected with hand, foot, and mouth disease.

When changing children's diapers or potty training, they are exposed to the virus and hence the infection.  Therefore, they are at high risk of getting infected, and more so since they have the habit of sucking their hands.

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The most contagious phase of an infected child with hand, foot, and mouth disease is in their first week of getting infected. Later, the virus will remain in the body long after the symptoms have cleared. Even at this time of virus recess in the body, the child can still infect others.

It is worse with adults who carry the virus without showing any symptoms. They can continue infecting other people and especially their children unknowingly.

Diagnosing Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

When hand, foot, and mouth disease is in the symptoms stage, it is easy for the doctor to diagnose it. The doctor examines the patient to check for all the symptoms.

After examination, it will be easy for the doctor to differentiate the infection from any other.

Other measures your doctor might wish to undertake:

  • Getting to know the age of the patient
  • Asking the patterns of symptoms appearance
  • Taking throat swab for laboratory test
  • Taking a stool specimen for laboratory test

Is Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease Different from Foot and Mouth Disease?

There is no relationship between hand, foot, and mouth disease and foot and mouth disease (which is also known as hoof and mouth disease) at all. Foot and mouth is a disease that affects animals such as cows, sheep, and swine. The only thing that is similar in both infections is that they are both viral diseases but caused by different viruses.

You don’t get hand, foot, and mouth disease from animals such as pets or other domesticated animals. At the same time, you cannot transmit hand, foot, and mouth to your pet.

Treating Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

The condition should clear on its own by the 7th to the 10th day. There is no known treatment or vaccine for hand, foot, and mouth disease. But, you cannot just sit back and watch your child suffer from the symptoms.

  • You can ease the symptoms by applying antibiotic ointment prescribed by your doctor to the blisters and the rashes.
  • You can administer pain relievers orally as prescribed by your doctor.  Never administer aspirin as it can cause other adverse effects.
  • You can apply medicated syrup to soothe a burning sore throat.
  • Home remedies such as yogurt, popsicles, or smoothies can relieve mouth and through the pain. Swishing or gaggling warm salty water can help to relieve soreness in both the mouth and the throat.
  • Avoid spicy foods, citrus fruits, acidic fruit drinks, and soda as the can irritate mouth blisters and sore throat.

What are the Risk Factors of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?

Hand, foot, and mouth disease also referred to HFMD in short form usually affects children below ten years of age and more often those that fall under five year. The most susceptible ones are children grouped at one place such as in child care centers and schools

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In case of an outbreak, the infection spreads faster in such a setting. The disease spreads from one child to another and since children are more susceptible, it can be more rampant.

With the knowledge that after an attack of hand, foot, and mouth disease a child builds antibodies, there is still a chance and possibility that when in adulthood, the infection can recur.

What are Other Complications of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?

Some of the complications in having hand, foot, and mouth disease are the sores in both the mouth and the throat which can make eating food and swallowing difficult and painful.

Feeling dryness in the mouth and throat due to infection sores is another complication.

Frequent sipping of fluid can ease the discomfort during the symptoms stage of the infection. In the severe case of feeling dehydrated, your GP may suggest IV fluids for effective relief.

Hand, foot, and mouth is a mild disease. It can be serious on rare occasions from a more severe coxsackievirus which can affect the brain. Complications from such an attack can be:

  • Viral meningitis – Viral meningitis is an inflammation of brain membranes (meninges) and cerebrospinal fluid that cover the brain and the spinal cord.
  • Encephalitis – It is a rare viral brain inflammation that happens when the body tries to block the virus from attacks.
  • Loss of fingernails and toenails – On rare occasion loss of nails can occur.

Preventing Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

Observe the following precautions to reduce chances of getting infected with hand, foot, and mouth disease:

  • Washing hands carefully – Take precautions to wash hands with soap often and thoroughly. Be more careful especially after changing your child’s diaper, after visiting the toilet, before eating or preparing meals.
  • When going out where there is no water and soap nearby, be sure to pack germ-killing gels or hand wipes to use when necessary.
  • Disinfecting common areas – Run a strict schedule of cleaning and disinfecting your child’s caring area. Use chlorine bleach and water to clean high traffic and common areas. Clean and disinfect your baby’s toys and other sharable items.
  • Teach your family good hygiene – Instill good hygiene practices in your children. Explain why it is important to observe cleanliness. Teach the little ones to avoid putting fingers and other objects in the mouth when not clean.
  • Isolation – Isolate the member of your family with hand, foot, and mouth infection from others as much as possible. Also, keep your child with the disease from attending school until they recover. For morale support, you may need to take time off from work and stay with your isolated child to pay more attention to them and shower them with affection.
  • Visit Your GP – Even when the infection is mild, pay a visit to your GP for examination. It is essential to be sure what is happening to your loved ones. Don’t play the doctor but get the right prescription to avoid overdose or under-dose such as when administering pain killers.

Allie Leon, Chief Fun Officer

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