What is hand, foot, and mouth?
Hand, foot, and mouth is a common childhood virus often caused by coxsackie virus which occurs in spring, summer, and fall. It most often affects infants and children up to 5 years of age. Adults can also develop hand, foot, and mouth disease also, but this happens much less frequently. The virus is spread through saliva, nasal secretions, and contact with stool. Children commonly pass it to each other through sharing drinks or utensils, sneezing or coughing close to others, and playing with toys touched by unclean hands.
Signs and Symptoms
A child will not develop symptoms of hand, foot, and mouth virus until around 3-6 days after they were exposed to the illness. The first symptoms to develop are similar to a common cold: fever, sore throat, and runny nose. After these symptoms begin, a rash with small blisters may appear in the mouth, on palms of the hands, on the soles of feet, and on the buttocks. The rash and blisters may appear in all these areas or in only 1 area. The rash is worst at the beginning and fades over 1 week.
How is the diagnosis made?
Your provider can tell if your child has hand, foot, and mouth disease from the description of symptoms and by evaluating the rash and mouth sores.
Virus are frustrating for parents because there is no treatment that helps the virus to resolve more quickly; however, there are treatments that can help alleviate symptoms until the virus resolves. Taking pain relievers such as Ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) or acetaminophen is often very helpful for mouth discomfort. Sometimes we will recommend making a solution of Maalox liquid and Benadryl liquid that can be swished in the mouth to help with discomfort. You can call our office to determine if this is the best thing for your child. It is common to have a decreased appetite due to blisters in the mouth; this is okay if the child is continuing to drink clear liquids and is not dehydrated.
It is difficult to prevent the spread of hand, foot, and mouth disease because those with the virus can pass the virus to others before they have developed the rash and for weeks or months after the virus began, through contact with stool. The best ways to prevent the spread of illness are to:
- Make sure that tissues used to blow the nose are thrown directly into the trash and not left on a counter where germs can be picked up by others and disinfect counter surfaces often.
- Encourage your child to cover his/her mouth with coughing or sneezing.
- Wash hands after coughing, sneezing, blowing nose, using tissues, and changing diapers.
- Clean toys that have been in contact with children’s saliva.
- Remind children not to share food, drinks, utensils, or towel, and not to kiss or hug siblings during illness.
Hand, foot, and mouth disease can occur in the same person more than once, so using the precautions each time your child is exposed to this illness is important. It is not transmitted to and from pets and other animals.
Return to School
Your child can return to school when he/she has been fever-free for 24 hours. It is also important to wait until they feel well enough to participate in class.