Hand, Foot and Mouth is incredibly common, but often a childhood illness that parents don’t know about until the time comes. Be prepared with our advice for everything you need to know about Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease:
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Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease is a very common illness, particularly in children under 10, caused by the virus enterovirus.
Its name comes from its symptoms, a non-itchy rash that develops on the soles of your feet and on the palms of your hands. It’s also common for both children and adults with Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease to get ulcers in their mouth.
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What Are the Symptoms of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease?
Symptoms usually appear from day three after infection with the virus, and they can last up to 10 days. However, some adults and children with the disease do not develop any symptoms.
Early symptoms can include:
- A sore throat
- Loss of appetite
- A high temperature
- Feeling unwell
- Tiny red spots in the mouth
Later symptoms can include:
- Mouth Ulcers – the red spot usually develops into painful sores especially on the tongue, throat and on the inside of your gum.
- Non-itchy rash – spots can be both flat or raised, some can form into blisters others into chickenpox sores. The rash can be found on the palm of the hands and on the soles of the feet. In rare cases, spots can be found on genitals.
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How Do I Treat Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease?
Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease is caused by a viral infection so it cannot be cleared up with antibiotics. It needs to run its course, usually for 7 to 10 days.
However, you can ease the symptoms – infected people should drink plenty of water to keep hydrated, get plenty of rest and medication can help relieve the symptoms of fever and/or a sore throat. Avoid citrus, acidic or spicy food and drink as this may sting the mouth ulcers. Instead, opt for soft and plain choices.
Paracetamol or ibuprofen can be taken to ease symptoms.
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Is Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease Contagious?
Take precautions to prevent the spread amongst your household. Unlike chicken pox which is usually a one-off, it is possible to catch the virus more than once.
You are most infectious in the three days prior to symptoms starting, but also in the five days subsequently.
Can I Prevent My Children Catching It?
Unfortunately, as the virus is highly contagious, the best way to avoid catching the disease is to avoid contact with someone who has the illness.
Wash your hands often with an antibacterial soap (and ensure the whole family does too), always use tissues and bin them immediately, avoid sharing any cups or utensils, and don’t share towels with infected people.
It is advised to keep your child off creche/school if they have contracted Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease to prevent a further outbreak. They can return to school once they are feeling well enough and the spots have cleared.
How Long Will My Child Be Sick?
Thankfully Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease is a short illness. In most cases treatment is not required as the body’s immune system will fight the virus and the symptoms go away in approximately 7 to 10 days.
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Should I Bring My Child to the Doctor?
If you are at all concerned about your child you should bring them straight to your GP. A doctor can diagnose Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease by looking at the appearance of the rash, and in rare cases, they might so a throat swab to be sent to a laboratory for testing.
Take your child to the doctor if s/he is dehydrated (not urinating as much as normal), has a high temperature that can’t be controlled, or doesn’t improve in 7-10 days. Also, see the doctor if you catch the virus while pregnant.
Are There Any Complications?
Yes, there are a few possible complications when it comes to hand, foot and mouth.
- Dehydration – due to the sores on the throat, some children may find it difficult to swallow. It is important to drink plenty of fluids during the infected period to keep hydrated. You could also try ice pops, ice cubes or frozen yoghurt to try and keep fluid levels up.
- Infection – in some cases, the spots may become infected if they are scratched. If this happens, visit your GP and they may prescribe an antibiotic to treat the infection.
In much rarer circumstances, there can be serious complications, including:
- Viral meningitis – viral Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease can lead to viral meningitis. It is an infection of the meninges and is less severe than bacterial meningitis. Those who contract viral meningitis normally make a full recovery within two weeks and there is no treatment.
- Encephalitis – in very rare cases it can lead to encephalitis, a potentially life-threatening infection that causes the brain tissue to swell and become inflamed. However many patients make a full recovery in a hospital.
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