What is Hand Foot and Mouth Disease? Hand Foot and Mouth Disease, in short HFMD is a common infectious disease of infants or children under 5 years old. It is a very contagious disease and it spreads quickly at schools and daycare centers. HFMD is also common in Asia-Pacific regions, especially in countries such as Australia, Korea, India, Singapore, Malaysia, and China.
Recently, Malaysia has had an increased number of HFMD cases, about 20 times more than cases reported in 2021. Parents who are not familiar with HFMD disease, here is the article for you- What is Hand Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD) and what you need to know.
What is Hand Foot and Mouth Disease?
Hand Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD) is a common childhood disease that affects children less than 5 years old. It is a disease caused by 2 types of virus – coxsackievirus a16 and enterovirus 71. It easily spreads from one person to another through contact with the body fluids of an infected person- saliva, nose discharge, feces, and skin blister. For example, someone can be infected if he is in contact with surfaces that have air droplets when the infected child sneezes, coughs, or drools. This includes sharing of feeding utensils, clothing, towels, and blankets.
Adults may get the virus too but adults may have no symptoms but they still carry the virus and spread it to the vulnerable ones. One person is possible to catch the virus more than 1 time.
Note: Hand foot and mouth disease sometimes is confused with foot and mouth disease FMD which affects livestock such as cows, sheep, buffalos, and pigs. These two are different diseases.
Symptoms of Hand Foot and Mouth Disease
Children who get HFMD will initially have fever or flu symptoms 3-4 days after being infected with the virus. After one or two days of fever, children may get painful mouth sores – you will find ulcers at the back of their mouth or tonsils. Swallowing can be painful and children usually will refuse to drink or eat.
Tips #1: Offer a cold drink or icy water and avoid acidic drinks such as sodas or orange juices, which can help to ease the pain, and keep them hydrated.
Small red spots or blisters will start to appear on the palm, feet soles, cheek or around the diaper area. They are usually not itchy but make sure your children do not touch them as blisters which also contain the virus that will cause HFMD disease. Most children will usually heal after 7-10 days without treatments.
Some children may experience more severe symptoms or prolonged periods of disease symptoms, please seek medical care immediately.
Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease Complications
Serious complications from hand foot and mouth disease are rare. Enterovirus 71 is more likely to cause problems than other HFMD viruses. Early detection and diagnosis are important. The doctor will usually take samples from the mouth and send them to the laboratory for analysis.
A small number of children will develop complications when they got infected. Complications may include:
- Dehydration if mouth sores make it hard to swallow liquids
- Swelling of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord or viral meningitis
- Swelling of the brain or encephalitis
- Swelling of the heart muscle or myocarditis
Treatment of Hand Foot and Mouth Disease
There is no specific treatment for HFMD, home monitoring will be sufficient. Make sure children are given enough fluids to stay hydrated. Avoid acidic drinks such as orange juice as they may cause pain with mouth ulcers.
Allow the skin blisters to dry naturally, do not try to pierce them as the blister fluid is infectious. See a doctor if children are:
- not drinking enough water to keep them hydrated.
- too young, less than 6 months old.
- fever does not subside after 3 days.
- experience more severe symptoms – severe rashes and itchiness
- weaken immune system
- do not see improvement after 10 days.
Prevention of Hand Foot and Mouth Disease
Good hygiene practices can prevent HFMD. Frequent handwashing with soap can help to prevent the spread of the virus. Good personal hygiene includes:
- sneeze or cough on your elbow or tissues.
- wash your hand with soap at least for 20 seconds.
- cleaning and disinfecting the floor, bedsheet, toys, and countertops frequently if you have an infected child at home.
- do not share feeding utensils, clothing, towel and blanket
- keep away another healthy child from a sick one
Make sure children do not pierce the skin blisters as they contain virus which will cause HFMD. Let the blisters dry naturally. Children who are infected with HFMD shall rest at home, they are not allowed to attend school, daycare centers, or other public places until the symptoms are subsided.
Usually, an infected child will be most contagious for the first few days of the disease, often before the rash start to appear. Once the blisters have dried up, he is unlikely to spread the virus to other people. However, the virus still can be found in his stool for weeks after the rashes go away. Therefore, make sure the caregiver always washes her hands after changing his diaper.
Useful tips to help your child eat, drink and heal faster from HFMD
There are a few ways you can help your child eat and drink when they have HFMD. Swallowing can be painful when they have mouth ulcers. These home remedies are safe and effective
- Warm food will cause some discomfort and pain when they swallow. Therefore, cold icy drinks, popsicles, ice cream, or sherbets can be given to them to soothe the pain and at the same time, keep them hydrated.
- For the Chinese, we will give something that is heat-clearing such as coconut water, or Cooling water called “Rhino water“. It is a trusted ingredient in many traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) recipes.
- Give your child something soft to eat like porridge, congee, oatmeals, yogurt, and applesauce. Yogurt or probiotics can help the body recover and heal from HFMD, especially strain Bifidobacterium adolescentis found in yogurt demonstrated antiviral activity that helped manage the Coxsackie virus that causes HFMD.
- Avoid acidic drinks such as orange juice, or soda as they may irritate them further.
- Rinse with salt water several times a day if they have ulcers or sore throat as it will reduce the pain or inflammation of the mouth.
Besides home remedies, there is an over-the-counter medicine that can help relieve the pain. For children, a topical oral anesthetic may help relieve the pain of mouth sores. Over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help relieve general discomfort. For older children, gargle with a mouth wash. Seek health professional advice before purchasing any of them.
There is no vaccine for HFMD, however, home treatment and home remedies will manage it as this disease is self-limiting and it goes away on its own. Most children will recover in 7-10 days with minimal treatment.
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