What is Hand Foot and Mouth Disease?

Nurse Dani.png
Nurse Dani.png

(KUTV) Salt Lake City - Everyone knows what a cold and flu looks like, but what about Hand Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD)? The illness is just as contagious and common, but not as recognizable. Nurse Dani with Intermountain Moms gets questions about HFMD all the time, and joined Kari and Brooke on Fresh Living to answer their questions about the sickness.

What is it?

The name sounds scary, but it is a common illness caused by different viruses. It typically affects children under the age of 5, but older children and adults can get it too. It is not a serious illness, although it’s not fun to have.

What are the symptoms?

It takes 3-6 days for symptoms to show up after someone has been exposed to the virus. Once symptoms begin showing, it’s common to see a fever, sore throat, and runny nose, much like a common cold. A rash with little blisters will then follow and can be seen in the mouth, on the hands, feet, and buttocks. Symptoms are usually worst in the first few days but completely gone in a week. It is normal for fingers and toes to peel 1-2 weeks after the symptoms have stopped and don’t be alarmed—this is not serious or harmful.

**An adult my have it and not have symptoms but pass it to others.

Is there a treatment?

It’s important to get your child checked out anytime they have an unusual rash or persistent fever. Some people wonder if the blisters are due to chicken pox or hand foot and mouth disease. A doctor can make a diagnosis and then ensure that treatment is prescribed if necessary. In the case of hand foot and mouth disease, because it’s a virus, there isn’t a treatment. It just needs to run its course and supportive care can be offered in the form of over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers.

A doctor may also recommend soothing liquids in the mouth to help with the pain from ulcers in the mouth.

Dehydration is common when a young child gets hand foot and mouth disease because their mouths hurt and they don’t want to eat. This will require treatment if it gets serious enough. If you think your child might be dehydrated, call your pediatrician or take your child to the ER.

How long will my child or I be contagious if we have it?

A person is most contagious during the first week of symptoms, but it can pass from the respiratory tract for 1-3 weeks after the initial symptoms occurred and for weeks to months through stool.

So, basically, if someone in your house has hand foot and mouth disease, be vigilant about teaching your child how to cough and sneeze in their elbow if they’re old enough to understand, decontaminate frequently touched surfaces in your home and your child’s toys as much as possible, and be sure to wash your hands and your child’s hands often, especially after changing diapers, using the restroom, before preparing food, before eating, and after coming in contact with tissues or clothing that that were coughed or sneezed in-throw issues away promptly and don’t let them sit around. Also avoid sharing food, drinks, towels, and other personal objects. If you have children that sleep in the same room, move the well child out to another area. These measures will minimize the chances of the disease spreading.

When can my child go back to school?

They can go unless they aren’t well enough to participate or if they have a fever or open blisters, which usually take about a week to heal up.

When can they go back to daycare?

When the fever and blisters are gone—but because the virus can be passed for up to months after in feces, the caregivers at the facility need to feel comfortable in their ability to care for the infected child without compromising the other children. Talk with your daycare center if your child has had it.

***One more note: a child can get it again and again because different viruses can cause it. Just because your child has had it once, it doesn’t mean they’re immune.

Nurse Dani loves helping parents across the Wasatch Front on her Intermountain Moms Facebook page. To ask her a question, or get advice, go to Facebook.com/IntermountainMoms.