Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease


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In 2009 (or thereabouts) my son caught Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease. I was horrified, as I thought that it was a deadly disease. It seems that it is only really deadly for cattle, who are killed and buried when they are found to have it. For humans, it is mostly just unpleasant. Although there can be serious complications, these are exceptionally rare.

So, what is Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease? Firstly, it is not actually the same as the “Foot and Mouth” disease that affects cattle and other livestock. It is a different virus altogether.

Hand, foot and mouth disease (often abbreviated to HFMD) is caused by intestinal viruses. There asre several strains in a group of viruses known as Picornaviridae, however, the most common strains are Coxsackie A virus and Enterovirus 71 (EV-71). It generally lasts for about a week and can make eating uncomfortable for some children if it spreads into the mouth.

Hand, foot and mouth disease is actually quite common and most children will catch it, usually once they attend nursery or pre-school when kids tend to share about their germs. It is only passed by mucus, saliva or feces (hopefully if you child catches it, it is not from feces!).


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Symptoms of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

Although most children will have mild symptoms, such as small blisters on the mouth and spots on the hands, there are many possible symptoms associated with it.

  • Sore throat
  • Painful oral lesions
  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Malaise (a general feeling of being unwell)
  • Referred ear pain
  • Non-itchy body rash, followed by sores with blisters on palms of hand and soles of feet
  • Oral ulcer
  • Sores or blisters on nose and nostrils
  • Sores or blisters on the buttocks of small children and infants
  • Irritability in infants and toddlers
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea

Incubation tends to last for 3 – 7 days, so if you here of an outbreak in your child’s nursery keep an eye on them over the next week for any of the above symptoms.

Treatment

This is a viral disease and there is no medication to treat it. Instead you should generally let the immune system fight it. For most people symptoms are mild and within a week the body has healed itself.

Complications

However, complications can occur. A relatively mild complication is viral or aseptic meningitis which may lead to hospitalisation.  Symptoms are severe fever, stiff neck, headaches and back pain.

The most serious complication is encephalitis (swelling of the brain) which can lead to a polio-like paralysis and death.

Toenail and Fingernail Loss

Some children lose their toenails and fingernails several weeks after the disease. Nails grow back.


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Major Outbreaks

In 2010 there was a major outbreak in China which killed around 540 people and affected around 71,000 children.

In February 2012 there was an outbreak in Alabama, USA. Although there were only 14 confirmed cases, this still represented a higher than normal outbreak in one area. A few people were hospitalised due to dehydration. The virus was identified as being the Coxsackie A6 virus.

Not to be confused with Foot-and-mouth disease

On the other hand, Foot-and-mouth disease, a.k.a. hoof-and-mouth disease, affects cattle and is highly infectious and often fatal. As well as affecting cattle it also affects water buffalo, sheep, goats, pigs, antelope, deer, bison and even hedgehogs. It is also caused by picornavirus, but a different strain of the virus.


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