As a mom of two young children, I have had the pleasure of experiencing this illness multiple times first hand. Here’s what you need to know about the mild but highly contagious illness that often lurks in kid’s classrooms. Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is a contagious illness that can be caught by children and adults. Learn the signs, symptoms, how it spreads, treatment, and prevention options.
What is Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?
Hand, foot, and mouth is a viral illness that typically affects young children, but adults and older kids can get it too. This type of virus is usually more present in the summer and fall, but can affect children and adults at any time. The virus can cause sores in the mouth and on the hands and feet. Hand, foot, and mouth can also cause a fever which can be present before the rash develops. Older kids may complain of a sore throat, and children who cannot talk, may refuse to eat or cry when eating due to the pain. Since this is a viral illness, no antibiotics are required, and symptoms usually go away in 1-2 weeks without treatment.
What Does the Rash Look Like?
The rash can look like small red bumps, blisters or spots and can be painful. Classically the rash is present in the mouth and on the hands and feet, including the palms and soles, but can also occur around the mouth and other areas of the body. The rash may also appear on the genital area and initially may mimic a diaper rash. Since the rash can be painful, young children may not want to walk and want to be held more often. The blisters will open, the rash will scab over, eventually heal and typically does not cause scarring.
How Does it Spread?
Hand, foot, and mouth is highly contagious particularly in the early stages of illness which is why it spreads so quickly through schools and daycare. Hand, foot, and mouth can be spread by saliva, mucus from the nose, blisters and through fecal matter. It is important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water to prevent the spread of infection. It is also important to teach your children about proper hand washing and good hygiene to also help reduce the spread.
There are multiple viruses that can cause hand, foot, and mouth disease, so it is possible for children to be affected by this more than once.
How Long Does it Last?
Most children will recover in a week or so, but the virus can remain in the body for weeks to months. In some cases, the virus can cause complete peeling of the skin of the hands and feet; as well as loss of finger and toenails weeks to months after the illness which may be painful for some children. Good news is that nails will grow back and the rash should not scar in most cases. The stages of hand, foot, mouth disease is fever, mouth sores, and skin rash.
When Can My Child Go Back to School?
In general, when there is no fever for at least 24 hours (without any medication to reduce fever), symptoms have improved, and the rash has gone away. It is recommended to check with your doctor to seek further guidance.
How Can I Help My Child?
Avoid giving food and drink that can be irritating or painful to the mouth and throat when sores are present such as spicy, acidic, or citrus foods. If you notice your child cries while eating or refuses to eat this may be why. Cold food and drink such as sugar-free popsicles, refrigerated yogurts can be soothing to the mouth and throat. Make sure to keep your child well-hydrated. If your child refuses to drink water and is not urinating or having wet diapers, please seek evaluation by a medical professional immediately.
Hand, Foot, Mouth Disease in Adults
Occasionally adults will also get the disease. The symptoms of hand, foot, mouth disease in adults are similar to those of children and may clear within 7-10 days. However, the CDC notes that people can spread the virus for days or weeks after symptoms disappear and if they have had no symptoms at all.
There are treatment options available to help with the pain and symptoms related to hand, foot and mouth disease. If your child has a high fever and rash or you suspect your child may have hand, foot, and mouth disease please seek evaluation by a medical professional.
This virus can cause a lot of discomfort and as a parent it is difficult to see your child in pain. With a little bit of love and TLC you and your child should be able to get through hand, foot and mouth disease just fine.
Author: Erin Wood, PA-C