Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a common viral illness that usually affects infants and children younger than 10 years old. It can occasionally occur in adults as well. The illness begins with a mild fever, poor appetite and often mouth pain. Within one or two days, blister-like sores may appear in the mouth. Most children and about 10 percent of infected adults develop a skin rash as well. The rash most commonly appears as blisters on the hands and feet, including fingers, toes, the palms of the hand and the soles of the feet.
Coxsackievirus A16 is the most common virus in the United States that causes the illness, but other coxsackieviruses have also been associated with the syndrome, as have enteroviruses, including Enterovirus 71. Hand, foot and mouth disease is highly contagious, with outbreaks occurring primarily in the summer and early fall.
Hand, foot and mouth disease is not related to foot-and-mouth disease (also called hoof-and-mouth disease) which is a viral disease found in farm animals. Humans cannot get hand, foot and mouth disease from pets or other animals, and animals do not get the disease from humans.
The illness spreads from one person to another by contact with an infected person’s secretions – nasal drainage, saliva, blister fluid, stool and droplets after coughing or sneezing.
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There is no specific treatment for the viruses that cause hand, foot and mouth disease or a vaccine to protect from the disease. A person can lower his or her risk of being infected by:
▪ Washing hands often with soap and water, especially after changing diapers, using the toilet and before preparing food and eating. Alcohol gels may be used if water is not readily available.
▪ Cleaning and disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces and soiled items, including toys and pacifiers.
▪ Teaching children not to place fingers, hands, toys or other objects into their mouths.
▪ Avoiding close contact such as kissing, hugging or sharing eating utensils or cups with people who have hand, foot and mouth disease. Anyone with the illness should stay home until the fever is gone and mouth sores have healed.
There is no specific treatment for hand, foot and mouth disease. However, one can relieve symptoms by:
▪ Getting plenty of rest
▪ Drinking fluids; milk-based fluids may be easier to tolerate than juice or soda, which can be acidic.
▪ Rinsing mouth with warm water after meals.
▪ Taking over-the-counter pain relievers other than aspirin, if needed (caution: aspirin should not be given to children).
▪ Using mouthwashes or topical oral sprays that numb pain.
Mouth sores can cause swallowing to be painful. Drinking liquids is important to stay hydrated. If a person cannot drink enough liquids, he or she may need to be given fluids through an IV in the vein.
Persons who are concerned about their symptoms should contact their healthcare provider.
More information can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website at www.cdc.gov/hand-foot-mouth.
Valerie Creswell is the Wesley Medical Center Infectious Disease Medical Director.