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Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a common and contagious viral illness. Learn about the symptoms and how to keep your little one comfortable if she contracts it. The good news is that it usually goes away on its own after about a week.
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Hand, foot, and mouth disease
Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a common illness that many kids will get in their first few years. It's caused by a group of viruses. The main virus is called Coxsackie, and despite this virus's mouthful of a name, it is not the same as the hoof and mouth disease that is so common in livestock.
The most obvious symptom of hand, foot, and mouth disease is the red, bumpy rash that appears on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and inside the mouth. The bumps may progress to blisters with a white center and red ring around them. The rash is often on the butt cheeks as well. That's why I tell my patients the illness has really hand, foot, mouth, and butt disease. What a name. Luckily, the skin rash on the body doesn't usually itch or cause pain.
If your child has hand, foot, and mouth disease, she may have a low fever – which often precedes the rash – as well as a sore throat, poor appetite, and low energy. Your child may have painful mouth sores on her tongue or in the back of her throat, which may make it hard for her to eat or drink. Hand, foot, and mouth disease typically lasts seven to 10 days.
The hand, foot, mouth virus is very contagious. It spreads through secretions from your child's nose, mouth, from her stool, as well as from fluid in the blisters. It's most contagious early on in the illness, which is the first few days of symptoms. If your child has the virus, you should avoid sharing food and beverages, and wash your hands frequently. If your child is feverish, has open blisters or new bumps that are popping up, or is drooling excessively, then she is still contagious and should stay home. Unfortunately, children and adults can get this disease repeatedly since there are many different viruses that cause it.
Call your doctor if you think your child has hand, foot, mouth disease. A doctor's visit can confirm the illness and also make sure that your child isn't dehydrated. The painful mouth sores can make it difficult to drink, so keeping your child well hydrated is key.
It's true that there's no real treatment for hand, foot, mouth disease. Since it's a virus, antibiotics don't help. I recommend closely monitoring your child's fever and hydration. Be on the lookout for signs of dehydration – like chapped lips, dry mouth, and decreased urination. Your doctor may recommend temporarily relieving your child's fever and discomfort with ibuprofen or acetaminophen, given as needed and dosed according to your child's weight. Cold fluids, popsicles, and softer foods may help, and I'd avoid spicy, salty, and citric foods while her mouth hurts. For older children, your doctor. may recommend a prescription topical mouthwash that may relieve some of the mouth pain. Here's the good news: hand, foot, and mouth disease usually goes away on its own within one week, so hold tight and give your child lots of fluids and TLC.
Video production by Paige Bierma.