It happens every year: the babies head back to school, brimming with pep and enthusiasm — and return home with every nasty germ known to mankind, poised to take down the entire family (maybe even the block), like a modern-day, nuclear holocaust. This usually happens within the first couple weeks of school, like clockwork. You’ve got your usual offenders: the common cold, flu, and various stomach viruses. And then there’s Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease…
What is Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?
Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD) is a viral illness that belongs to the Enterovirus group. The viruses that cause this disease — commonly found in daycares and preschools — can be found in an infected person’s throat and nose secretions, blister fluid, and feces (poop). Pretty gross, right?
The virus is spread through close personal contact (kissing), the air (through coughing and sneezing), contact with feces, and contact with contaminated objects and surfaces (like touching doorknobs). The virus usually affects children and babies five years and younger, but can sometimes occur in adults. While it is possible to become infected by swallowing recreational water (like in a swimming pool), the CDC says this is not very common. However, it’s more common if the water is contaminated with feces from an infected person. (Think a small child who has an accident in a public pool.)
What are the symptoms?
Outbreaks of the disease are most common during the warm summer and early fall months. Just in time for back-to-school! Keep an eye out for these symptoms:
- Reduced appetite
- Sore throat
- General malaise (feeling unwell)
- Painful sores in the mouth may develop
- A skin rash with red spots (and sometimes blisters) may appear on the hands, the soles of the feet, the knees, the elbows, the buttocks, or genitals
Are there complications?
Young children with HFMD may become dehydrated —because they can’t swallow liquids (due to painful mouth sores). Other resulting health complications are (mostly) uncommon. However, viral meningitis, encephalitis (swelling of the brain), or polio-like paralysis can occur, BUT instances are highly rare. That’s a relief! Adults may be asymptomatic, but can still pass on the virus.
Someone with HFMD is most contagious during the first week of illness. So it’s best to stay home from work and school. And always consult your physician before returning.
How is HFMD treated?
There is no specific treatment for HFMD, but there are ways you can prevent it from catching it (or spreading it). Lower the risk of being infected by washing hands often (with soap and water) — especially after changing diapers or using the bathroom. You should also clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys. Your best line of defense is to avoid close contact (kissing, hugging, sharing cups and eating utensils) with someone who is infected.
If you or your child become infected, there are some actions you can take to relieve the symptoms. These include taking OTC medications for pain and fever, and using mouthwashes or sprays to numb the mouth. As always, if you are concerned about your child’s symptoms, consult your pediatrician.