In a day and age when pertussis is a household name and the threat of Ebola is just a plane ride away, it’s more important than ever to be well-informed on the all things that can pose a health risk to us, and more importantly, our children. Despite the recent increase of Hand Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD) outbreaks in parts of California, surprisingly, the chatter about it remains low. HFMD is a viral illness that is spread by contact with infected persons or things. While rarely life threatening, the disease is concerning because one, the disease doesn’t present itself until a person is already infected thereby making the disease easily transmitted and hard to prevent, and two, HFMD predominantly affects infants and young children – most likely because the little ones don’t know or forget how to practice proper hygiene. Infected children share toys in daycare or preschool and often times, by the time parents alert their childcare facilities of the infection, it’s already too late and the disease has already been transmitted to other children. Before you know it, entire centers have to be shut down and sterilized.
Here’s more of what you need to know about HFMD:
Who can get it: both children and adults, but more commonly affects infants, and children under 5. Depending on the severity of symptoms, doctors may order a throat culture or stool sample to test for the virus.
Transmission: HFMD viruses can usually be found in an infected patient’s nose and throat secretions (such as saliva and mucus), blister fluid, and/or stool. Transmission occurs via close personal contact, air (sneezing or coughing), contact with contaminated stool, and contact with contaminated objects and/or surfaces. While infected patients can be contagious for days or weeks after symptoms go away, generally, the most contagious period is during the first week of illness. Be wary though that while some people, especially adults, don’t develop any symptoms, they can still be contagious. (This fact alone should be reason enough to maintain good hygiene).
If you or your little become infected with HFMD, stay home and only return to work or school once you receive clearance from your doctor.
Symptoms: fever, painful, blister-like sores in the mouth, and a non-itchy skin rash are common symptoms of HFMD. First symptoms are similar to that of a bad flu (poor appetite, sore throat, lethargy and fever) and usually appear within three to seven days of infection. Then, one to two days later, painful sores appear in the mouth, as well as a skin rash on the palms of hands and soles of feet. The rash, which can be flat or raised, with red spots and blisters, can also appear on knees, elbows, buttocks and even genital areas.
Not everyone will experience all of the above symptoms. Some may only get mouth sores or a skin rash. If your child develops mouth sores, it’s very important to get them checked out by a medical professional asap. Because mouth sores are painful, young children may refuse to swallow enough liquids to keep them properly hydrated.
Treatment: There is no treatment for HFMD yet. However, taking over the counter medication to relieve fever and pains, and using mouthwash to numb mouth sores are some things that you can do to relieve the pains and discomforts. (Always check with your doctor first). The good news is that the disease usually resolves itself after seven to ten days.
Prevention: There is no vaccine to protect against HFMD, so again, do practice proper hygiene to avoid infection. Other ways to reduce your risk of contracting HFMD:
- Wash hands often, especially after using the restroom. (Remember, a thorough hand washing equates to the Happy Birthday song sung twice).
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and soiled items (toys, doorknobs, playground equipment)
- Avoid close contact such as kissing, hugging, or sharing eating utensils with people with HFMD.
- Disinfect all areas and items that have come into contact with a person that has HFMD
Unlike diseases such as Ebola, HFMD is already on our home turf and we need to be vigilant. It’s important that we raise awareness to try and limit further outbreaks. As parents, we’re always trying to shield our little ones from harm, but sometimes contagious illnesses are inevitable and out of our control. What we can control is knowledge, and that knowledge is power, and power is protection. By staying informed, we can better protect ourselves, and our little ones. So spread the word, not the disease.