Dr Ciaran Roarty of Scally McDaid Medical Practice Letterkenny shares advice on the symptoms, treatment and care of children infected with Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease.
What is Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease?
First of all, Hand Foot and Mouth disease has nothing whatsoever to do with Foot and Mouth in Cattle! It is a short mild illness that usually affects children who usually are fully recovered within a week to ten days.
It is caused by a virus and usually gives a fairly typical rash in children, with under 10s most likely affected. Usually the first signs are fever, feeling unwell followed by a sore throat and small spots on the inside of the mouth which develop into small ulcers.
Spots or blisters may also appear on the lips or around the mouth as well as or instead of the ulcers inside the mouth.
Often spots also develop after a day or so on the hands, feet, buttocks legs or genitals. They don’t commonly develop elsewhere and while they may appear similar to chickenpox, they tend to be smaller and are not itchy.
It is not generally serious though the mouth ulcers can be sore and make the child feel a bit miserable. In a very small minority of cases complications of the internal organs may occur, but thankfully this is rare.
How is it treated?
Like many viral infections, the body’s immune system fights the virus and we aim to ease the symptoms until the illness goes away. Treatment includes paracetamol or ibuprofen to help lower the temperature, along with light clothing and perhaps a small fan or slightly opened window in the room. Cold sponging is no longer advised.
Fluids are important to keep well hydrated. Soft foods such as smoothies or soups are easier to take with a sore mouth, and over the counter gels from the pharmacy may also ease the discomfort. Your pharmacist can advise which is suitable for your child’s age.
If your child stops taking fluids or you notice any unusual symptoms they should be seen by a doctor.
Is it contagious?
Hand, foot and mouth is very contagious and it will take 3-5 days before symptoms show.
The virus is spread via coughing or sneezing but also in stools. Often doctors will hear of an outbreak in nurseries or playschools when it is diagnosed. The virus can still be passed with children’s stools for several weeks after symptoms have settled so hand hygiene is very important.
There is no specific advice on school exclusion with hand foot and mouth but if your child is feeling miserable you may wish to keep them off until they feel better.
Pregnant women are not thought to be at any risk from hand foot and mouth though if a mum-to-be contracts the disease within 3 weeks of delivery, it is possible to pass it on to the baby after delivery, so it is important to tell your doctor. The disease is usually mild in the newborn with complications very unusual.
The above information is intended as advice only and should you have any concerns contact your own Doctor.
Dr Ciaran Roarty MB BCh BAO MICGP DRCOG is a full-time GP at Scally McDaid Medical Practice , Scally Place, Letterkenny, Tel 0749164111