Although it sounds similar to hoof and mouth disease, the virus that affects farm animals, Hand, Foot and Mouth disease is connected because it too is viral. It is caused by the coxsackievirus A 16 and occurs only in humans.
What is Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease?
Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a mild but highly infectious illness that affects mainly children, especially the under-tens and most commonly preschoolers. Schools, childcare centers, and play centers, where there are numbers of young children in close contact, are often the sites of outbreaks; such epidemics usually occur during the warmer seasons of the year.
Symptoms of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease
Typical symptoms are blisters, usually fluid-filled, which appear on the hands, soles of the feet and in the mouth. There may be an overall rash and sore throat adding to a general feeling of malaise. The infected child may sleep more than usual in the daytime and be unwilling to eat because of mouth discomfort. If you are to limit the spread of disease as far as possible, you should keep infected children at home, and hand washing should be frequent.
Treatment of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease
As there are no medications for the treatment of the viral disease, it is fortunately mild and self-limiting, running its course over three to seven days. An affected child may be prescribed pain relief, chiefly to alleviate the mouth discomfort from the blisters and to reduce fever, if present. Dehydration is a risk in young children, and they should be encouraged to drink; dissolving small ice cubes in the mouth could soothe and also add to fluid intake. Rest helps recovery, and as the affected child usually feels weak and listless, he or she will naturally sleep more than usual.
Blisters should not be “popped,” and when kept dry, they will peel off after about a week, leaving no scars. Once the blisters have dried, the child may return to school or care facility, but as stools remain infective for three to four weeks, adults should stress the importance of hand-washing, ensuring that small children learn the correct procedure.
Complications of hand, foot, and mouth disease are rare: dehydration can occur requiring hospital treatment; viral meningitis in a mild form is possible; on rare occasions, encephalitis can affect the brain or myocarditis the heart. Occasionally, around two months following infection, it may be noted that toe and fingernails begin to shed; they will then become normal again.
Adults can develop hand, foot, and mouth disease, but they mostly have a natural immunity due to previous exposure in childhood. However, women who come in contact with the infection when they are in the third trimester of pregnancy should be monitored, as it can affect the newborn with mild symptoms.