Back-to-School Illnesses: Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

Steps to reduce your family's risk of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD)

(RxWiki News) Going back to school means new teachers and friends. But it's also a time for back-to-school illnesses, such as hand, foot and mouth disease.

Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) affects mostly infants and children younger than 5. Kindergarten and day care centers are common places for HFMD to be transmitted. However, in some cases, HFMD may affect older children and adults.

In the United States, HFMD outbreaks are most common in the summer and autumn seasons. HFMD is caused by a group of viruses called enteroviruses. It can be spread through secretions (saliva, sputum, nasal mucus), blister fluid and fecal matter.

Symptoms of HFMD include the following:

  • Fever
  • Reduced appetite
  • Sore throat
  • Not feeling well
  • Painful sores (blisters) in the mouth (typically one or two days after the fever starts)
  • Rash (flat, red spots) on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet (sometimes on the knees, elbows and buttocks)

Not everyone will show these symptoms. Some adults may present with no symptoms at all but can still pass the virus to those around them.

HFMD can lead to dehydration. That's because HFMD causes sores in the mouth and throat, making it painful and difficult to swallow. Because of this risk of dehydration, make sure your child frequently drinks fluids (even if it is sipping) during the course of the HFMD. Although complications are rare, encephalitis and meningitis can occur. 

Some foods and drinks may make the blisters in the mouth more bothersome. Offer your child ice pops or ice chips to suck on (if safe for your child's age), ice cream or smoothies, cold beverages like ice water and soft foods. Avoid acidic foods and drinks such as citrus fruits and sodas. In addition, avoid spicy and salty foods.

HFMD is self-limiting and usually resolves within a week to 10 days. Confirm with school or work on policies for returning after such an infection. Your child will be most contagious in the first week with HFMD, but the virus can stay in the body for weeks, meaning it can still infect others.

Sores in the mouth can be treated with pain relievers (Tylenol and Advil). Aspirin is not recommended in children. Ask your pharmacist for recommendations on topical pain relievers, too.

The following are some tips for handling and avoiding HFMD:

  1. Stay hydrated. It is important to stay hydrated during the course of the illness. Contact your doctor if the painful sores prevent your child from drinking fluids.
  2. Wash your hands. Keep yourself safe and prevent spreading the virus by washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. It is especially important to wash your hands after changing diapers and using the restroom.
  3. Clean and disinfect. Be sure to disinfect common surfaces frequently.
  4. Keep your distance. Avoid close contact with those who are infected with HFMD.

Ask your child's pediatrician any questions you have about hand, foot and mouth disease.