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Hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD): Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is a mildly contagious viral infection that usually occurs in infants and children under the age of 5 years. However, it can sometimes infect adults. It is characterised by sores and blisters on the hands, feet and in and around the mouth. These sores can be painful. The disease usually doesn’t last more than a week or 10 days.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD)

 

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease causes

Causes:

This disease is caused by a virus called enterovirus. This virus is found in the following tissues and secretions of infected individuals:

  • Throat and nose secretions
  • Blister fluid
  • Faeces

The first week of illness is the most contagious period. The virus can spread from an infected person to another person through:

  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Contact with faeces
  • Close personal contact

Risk factors

  • Children under the age of 5 are at the highest risk of getting the Hand-foot-and-mouth disease.
  • The risk is more if the child is in a daycare or school as the virus can spread quickly among children.
  • Children usually build immunity against the virus after the first attack. That’s why this condition rarely affects children over the age of 10 years.
  • However, this disease can also occur in older children and adults with weakened immunity.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease symptoms

  • In the beginning, a child may have a mild fever, loss of appetite, weakness and sore throat.
  • After 1-2 days, sores or blisters may appear in or on the mouth, palms and soles.
  • Blisters may also appear on the elbows, knees, buttocks or genital area.
  • Sometimes skin rashes appear before the blisters.
  • In adults, there may be very mild symptoms or no symptom at all.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease diagnosis

Doctors are usually able to identify Hand-foot-and-mouth disease by clinical features such as:

  • The age of the patient
  • The pattern of signs and symptoms
  • The appearance of rashes and sores
  • The doctor may confirm the diagnosis by taking a throat swab or stool specimen and sending it to a lab to determine the virus

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease treatment and prevention

Treatment:

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease usually doesn’t require any treatment. Usually, symptoms resolve by itself within 7- 10 days. However, the doctor may suggest certain medications to ease the symptoms of the disease like:

  • Topical ointments to relieve the pain of rashes and blisters
  • Medication for fever and headache
  • Cough lozenges for a sore throat

Some home remedies can also provide relief from symptoms of this disease, such as:

  • Plenty of cool fluids can help cope with sore throats and prevent dehydration
  • Ice pops and ice creams can also soothe the throat
  • Avoid giving acidic or spicy foods and drinks as it may further irritate the blisters and cause pain
  • Stay away from citrus fruits and juices
  • To reduce the inflammation of mouth and throat, you can rinse your mouth with warm salt water, several times a day

Prevention:

You can prevent this disease from spreading by the following measures:

  • Washing hands carefully – Make sure to wash your hands properly, especially after touching a blister, changing the diaper of an infected child and after using the toilet
  • Disinfecting– It is important to disinfect common areas in your home. You can clean the shared surfaces with soap and water, and then bleach them. You should also disinfect toys, pacifiers and other things which the child uses while he/she has an infection.
  • Isolate infected child– Refrain from sending the infected child to school or daycare until the fever and sores subside.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease: read more

Complications:

Dehydration is the most common complication of this disease as swallowing becomes painful due to sores in the mouth and throat.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is usually a mild infection causing signs and symptoms for few days. In rare cases, virus can infect the brain and cause other complications like:

Viral meningitis – manifested by a headache, fever, back pain and stiff neck

Encephalitis – this complication is very rare, but it is a very severe and life-threatening situation which involves inflammation of the brain.

Red flags:

  • If the symptoms don’t subside after 7-10 days of medication, inform your doctor immediately.

Consult a top Pediatrician

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References

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  • About Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD). Available at http://www.cdc.gov/hand-foot-mouth/about/index.html. Accessed on 15th June 2016.
  • Hand, foot and mouth disease. Available at http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Hand-foot-and-mouth-disease/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Accessed on 15th June 1016.

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