Face-to-Face with Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

Back-to-school time can be exciting for many young children—especially toddlers in daycare or kindergarten. For parents, however, it’s important to be prepared to keep your children healthy, especially from illnesses like hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD).

While the name “hand, foot and mouth disease” sounds terrifying, it’s actually just an illness caused by one of several viruses. This contagious illness most often affects those ages 5 and younger, but people of all ages can become infected. Most often, HFMD is spread through coughs and sneezes and by the touch of a sick child or person.

Symptoms of HFMD appear in different stages, and not all children who become ill exhibit all of them. The most common symptoms include:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Painful sores in mouth
  • Rash or small blisters on hands, soles of feet and diaper area that may be sore to the touch

Although children may not show all symptoms of the illness, they remain contagious, especially during the first week of illness. Symptoms typically appear three to seven days after first contact with the virus. Adults may not exhibit any symptoms, but could still spread the virus to others.

The Road to Wellness

If you believe your child has HFMD, it is important to visit a doctor as quickly as possible. HFMD is usually not serious, and most people recover in seven to 10 days. Rarely, an infected person can develop viral meningitis and require hospitalization. As with many other viral illnesses, the main treatment is to let the virus run its course – your doctor will help determine the best ways to manage symptoms, including over-the-counter pain relievers.

The Power of Prevention

The first line of defense against many illnesses, including hand, foot and mouth disease, is proper and frequent handwashing. Teach your little ones the basic steps to properly wash their hands using these steps:

  • Always wash hands with warm water.
  • Lather hands with soap for 20 seconds using regular or antibacterial soap.
  • Be sure to wash in between fingers, under fingernails and as high up as the wrists.
  • Rinse hands and dry thoroughly using paper towels or a clean towel.
  • Also, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • And disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick.

Practice makes perfect with small children, so take advantage of any opportunities to teach or reinforce this healthy habit.

Sources: cdc.gov, medlineplus.gov, kidshealth.org

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