Hand, foot, and mouth disease is caused by a virus belonging to the Enterovirus family. It is contagious and is common in childhood. It may be easy to identify in your child as it will usually begin with red spots or sores on the soles of their feet and the palms of their hands as well as inside the mouth. Children aged five and under are more likely to catch hand, foot, and mouth disease, but adults and teens can catch it too. This disease is sometimes confused with foot-and-mouth disease, but this only affects cattle, pigs, and sheep. If you believe your child has hand, foot, and mouth disease, here is a short guide to what causes it, some of the symptoms to look out for, and how it can be treated or prevented.
What Causes Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease and How Does it Spread?
As mentioned, hand, foot, and mouth disease is caused by human enteroviruses. The linked article from Patient has more information on this and other common childhood conditions. The virus is found in the mouth, throat, stomach, intestines, and rectum. It is spread between humans when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or blows their nose without washing their hands afterward. Your child can contract the disease if they touch their eyes, mouth, or nose after touching something contaminated with the virus, such as door handles, surfaces, or toys. It can also be spread through contact with the stools or the blisters of an infected person.
Symptoms to Look Out for
As well as painful sores in and around the mouth, and red spots on their hands and feet, the other symptoms to look out for can include the following:
- Poor appetite
- Sore throat
- High fever
Note that these symptoms can appear in stages rather than all at once, and not every person will present with all of them. Some people can contract the disease and not show any symptoms, such as adults, but they can still pass it on to others.
Symptoms can appear between three and seven days after coming into contact with someone with hand, foot, and mouth disease. It is important to keep an eye on your child’s temperature and hydration levels. Painful sores can make it difficult for them to swallow and a high temperature can cause seizures.
How to Prevent or Avoid Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease
Since hand, foot, and mouth disease spreads easily among children, it is important to practice good hygiene. You won’t always know whether someone has the virus, especially in the early stages, so make sure they wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water regularly. Try to encourage them to cover their nose and mouth when they sneeze, and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched, such as toys, door handles, and kitchen surfaces.
How to Treat Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease
Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease. Your doctor will usually recommend treatments aimed at relieving the symptoms, such as over-the-counter pain medication, gargling with salt water, and making sure your child drinks plenty of fluids. Try to avoid sodas and juice as the acidity of these drinks can irritate any sores in the mouth. If swallowing drinks is difficult, you can try giving your child some non-juice popsicles.
Recovery from hand, foot, and mouth disease usually takes between five and seven days. If your child has the virus, concentrate on keeping them hydrated and comfortable.