The hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is a mild, yet uncomfortable and painful condition that mostly affects infants and children. The viral infection is brought about by Coxsackievirus A16, which belongs to the "non-polio enteroviruses" group of viruses. Children below the age group of 5 years are often the worst affected, as they lack the necessary immunity against the virus that causes the disease.
The infection, though common in children, has also been reported in adults.
In HFMD, rashes appear in the hands and feet, while sores and lesions appear in the mouth.
In this regard, one needs to understand that the HFMD is not the same as the foot and mouth disease. While the former occurs in humans, the latter is a disease observed in animals (mostly cattle and swine ).
Signs and symptoms accompanying the hand-foot-mouth disease
The symptoms for HFMD appear within three to six days from the initial infection by the virus.
1. Fever is one of the initial symptoms observed in patients with the viral infection.
2. Infants and children get cranky.
3. Blisters (often painful) appear on the gums, tongue and sometimes inside the cheeks. Thus, children experience difficulty in eating and swallowing.
4. There is a loss of appetite and have a sore throat.
5. Rashes (non-itchy, but often with blisters) appear on the feet (mostly soles of the feet), palms, elbow, knees and sometimes even on the genital area.
The rashes usually appear one or two days following the fever.
Though contagious, the viral infection is nothing to lose your sleep over. In a majority of the cases, the recovery time is between 7-10 days, without any serious after effects.
Seldom does the infection result in fatal consequences such as viral meningitis, inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or paralysis (polio-like).
However, if the rashes and the blisters take longer than usual to heal or the child experiences extreme discomfort in eating, drinking or facial movements, consult a doctor at the earliest.
How the infection spreads
Being a contagious disease, HFMD can easily spread from one person to another. In fact, a patient in the first week of the infection is the most potent carrier of the virus. The chances of being infected by the virus increases if a person comes in close contact with the:
1. Fluids contained in the blisters
2. Secretions such a sputum, nasal mucus, and saliva
3. Things (soil, utensils, toiletries, toys, clothes, feces) infected with the virus
Coming in close physical contact with the patients can also spread the infection.
Sadly, the hand-foot-mouth disease has no specific treatment. There are, however, medications like ibuprofen (Motrin IB, Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) available that may provide some temporary relief.
In the case of infants and children, it is best to use medicines recommended by the doctor only.
Acidic, spicy and salty foods can aggravate the blisters. It is best to avoid such foods and beverages. Instead, give your child foods that are soft and do not require much chewing.
Ice creams, chilled water and cold milk have a soothing effect and are highly recommended.
A few simple, yet effective preventive measures can help to control the spread of the viral infection to a great extent.
1. It is important that one maintains good personal hygiene. Wash your child's hands thoroughly after playing (indoor and outdoor) games, before and after having food.
2. Avoid kissing or cuddling babies infected with the virus.
3. Wash your hands after changing the diapers of the infected baby. One can also use gloves.
4. Use a good disinfectant to clean the objects and things that come in contact with the affected baby.
5. Never touch your eyes, mouth, and nose with unclean and unwashed hands.
6. Use of a handkerchief while coughing and sneezing.