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Your Health Blog

    Understanding Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease

    Capri Weyer, MD  Pediatrics Deaconess Clinic  08/09/2016
    Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is a viral infection most commonly caused by coxsackievirus.  Although it can be seen in any age group, it is usually seen in young children. “Outbreaks” are also common in late summer and early fall—August into October.

    A fever is often the first sign of infection, followed by poor appetite, fussiness and fatigue.  1 or 2 days after the fever begins, the child may develop painful sores in the mouth, on the hands/feet, diaper area or elsewhere.  Most cases of hand foot mouth disease are mild and self-limiting. The illness usually lasts about 10 days. The most common complication is dehydration primarily due to lethargy, fussiness and painful eating and swallowing.  To prevent dehydration, offer your child frequent sips of fluid.  If your child is not drinking or urinating enough, notify your child’s provider. 

    Symptom Management

    Although there is no medication that can cure the infection, the following measures to keep your child comfortable and hydrated, and to help make blister soreness less bothersome and eating and drinking more tolerable:
    • Suck on ice pops or ice chips.
    • Eat ice cream or sherbet.
    • Drink cold beverages, such as milk or ice water.
    • Avoid acidic foods and beverages, such as citrus fruits, fruit drinks and soda.
    • Avoid salty or spicy foods.
    • Eat soft foods that don't require much chewing.
    • Rinse the mouth with warm water after meals.

    If your child is able to rinse without swallowing, swishing with warm salt water may be soothing. Have your child do this several times a day or as often as needed to help reduce the pain and inflammation of mouth and throat sores caused by hand-foot-and-mouth disease.

    Be sure to contact your child’s doctor if the illness keeps your child from drinking fluids or if your child’s condition worsens after a few days.

    Preventing Hand, Foot & Mouth

    Infected people are most infectious in the first week of the illness.  Interestingly, some people--especially adults--can spread the virus without showing any signs of the disease.  The virus spreads person-to-person contact with an infected person via nasal secretions, saliva, and fluid from blisters, stool and respiratory droplets from coughing/sneezing. 

    Hand foot mouth disease can be often times found in child care settings due to frequent diaper changes and potty training.  Younger children also put their hands or toys in their mouth.  Teaching children and caregivers to wash hands properly and frequently can help prevent the spreading of this easily contagious disease.  Hand washing is especially important after using the toilet or changing a diaper and before preparing food and eating. 

    Clean toys and pacifiers frequently.  It is also helpful to get in the habit of cleaning high-traffic areas with soap and water and then with a diluted solution of chlorine bleach and water.  

    Learn more about the author

    Capri Weyer, MD
    Specialty: Pediatrics
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