Hand, foot and mouth Disease – it sounds scary, and is often confused with “foot-and-mouth disease (also called hoof-and-mouth disease), which is a disease restricted to cattle, sheep, and pigs. But not to worry, as your child is not going to catch a sketchy sounding condition from the local petting zoo. In fact, hand foot and mouth disease is not a disease, but a virus – and a very common one at that – and the one we’re talking about here only occurs in humans.
Caused by the Coxsackie virus, hand foot and mouth disease is a super common, usually mild, and extremely contagious virus that usually affects infants and children under the age of 5 years old. To put into perspective how contagious it really is, picture this: a friend of mine brought her child to a birthday party, unknowing that one of the guests had the early symptoms of the hand-foot and mouth virus. 3 days later, all 10 kids that attended the party had the virus. It’s that contagious.
Usually occurring in summer and fall, hand foot and mouth can also sometimes occur in adults, with varying symptoms. In children, the most common symptoms include flu-like symptoms, fever, blister-like sores in the mouth, a skin rash, and small blisters on the fingers and feet.
Hand, foot, and mouth disease usually starts out like a common cold or flu. Your child will likely complain of a sore throat, may have a fever, and a poor appetite. After a few days, the sores may appear on the chin, mouth, hands and feet. The blisters vary in severity – some cause no irritation at all, while others may feel sore and prevent your child from comfortably eating or drinking. Sometimes there are no blisters at all. The virus is most contagious during the first week of illness, and spreads through contact with an infected person’s saliva or stool. Essentially, the germs can get on a person’s hands or other objects and then spread into someone’s mouth, causing infection.
When both of my children contracted this virus, they were each only a year old and I was still nursing them. As a result, they only got a mild fever and a few blisters on their hands and feet – I am almost certain that my breast milk prevented the blisters from forming in their mouths. However, if your child does get blisters in his or her mouth, and you’re not breastfeeding, don’t panic! Lots of water will keep your child nicely hydrated, and won’t sting the blisters like juice or milk might.
My husband and I both ended up with the virus as well (as I mentioned above, it is extremely contagious). We had moderate flu-like symptoms that were gone in a day. Another friend of mine caught it from her child, and ended up with a high fever and a very sore throat. Overall, it can manifest in many ways, but the most important factor to remember is that it is a generally mild virus that is as common in childhood as chicken pox once was.
As with many other flu and cold viruses that are kicking around out there, vigorous hand washing is the only real preventative measure. Since viruses don’t require antibiotics, use OTC medications such as Advil or Tylenol (on the advice of your doctor) to help ease any discomfort that your child may be experiencing. And be sure to give all toys, doorknobs and other household surfaces a wash-down to eliminate any germs that are kicking around.