Hand, Foot And Mouth Disease In Children: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

If your child has developed rashes on her hands and feet with a mild fever, she may have hand, foot and mouth disease. Here is all you need to know about the common childhood illness.

By Aarthi Arun

Hand, Foot And Mouth Disease In Children: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Did you get a letter from your child’s school about hand, foot and mouth disease? You may wonder what this disease, which sounds intimidating, is all about. It is an illness common among children, and because of its contagious nature spreads quickly from one child to the other. So, educational institutions may send a note to parents about it — to ensure they take precautionary measures. 

What is HFMD? 

Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is a mild viral illness. It starts with moderate fever, similar to other viral infections. Your child may get sores in her mouth, and rashes or blisters on her hands and feet. Though the illness can be uncomfortable for your child, the condition is not dangerous. It is common in preschool-age children. That is why HFMD outbreaks are prevalent in preschools and day care centres. Once your child gets this infection, she will develop antibodies and become immune to HFMD. However, the illness can also occur in adolescent children and adults.

Causes

HFMD is caused by two types of viruses called coxsackievirus and enterovirus. The viruses can spread from person to person through body fluids like saliva and nasal mucus, the affected person‘s faeces and through secretions from the blisters. Your child can also get the disease from an infected child —

  • by coming into contact with the respiratory droplets while coughing and sneezing.
  • by sharing utensils, toys and other items.
  • by touching surfaces like tables and doorknobs that may be contaminated by the infected secretion. 

Symptoms

It may take 3–6 days for your child to show symptoms after coming into contact with the virus. Fever and sore throat may be the first set of symptoms you will see in your child, followed by sores inside his mouth. He may complain of throat pain and reduce his food intake. In about a day or two, your child will develop rashes on his palms and feet. The rashes may also get filled with fluids to become blisters. Some children may not have any rashes at all. In certain cases, the disease may spread from an infected child, even weeks after he does not show any symptoms.

Treatment

Since HFMD is a viral infection, there is no treatment for it. Neither is there any vaccine to prevent the infection. You can only treat the symptoms and keep your child comfortable. For most children, HFMD goes away on its own in 7–10 days, with no treatment. 

Here are a few things you can do to keep your little one comfortable:

  • Offer acetaminophen (paracetamol) for reducing fever.
  • For a sore throat, your child can gargle with salt water to get relief.
  • You can apply calamine lotion on the blisters and rashes to soothe itching.
  • Give her a bath in lukewarm water to reduce body temperature naturally. 

Dehydration 

Dehydration is a concern while your child is suffering from HFMD. Make sure your child is drinking enough water and other fluids. Your child may be cranky and refuse to eat because of the discomfort she suffers. But, make sure she is sipping water every now and then to avoid dehydration. If your child suffers from severe dehydration, she may need an intravenous therapy (IV) to inject saline solution into her body.

Precautions

Hygiene is important to keep the disease from spreading. Here are some important precautions you must take: 

  1. Encourage your child to wash hands often with soap. 
  2. Disinfect and thoroughly clean your child’s toys and utensils. 
  3. Take care while you change your child’s diaper or wipe her runny nose. 
  4. Keep your child home until she completely recovers and shows no symptoms.

When to see a doctor

HFMD is a minor illness that can go away on its own without requiring any medication. But, the same coxsackievirus responsible for HFMD can also cause potentially life-threatening conditions like meningitis, an infection of the brain, and encephalitis, a severe brain inflammation. These conditions are very rare; yet, it is a good idea to check with a paediatrician, if your child’s symptoms worsen.

The article is validated by Dr Sundar C Ingaleshwar, who is a Paediatrics Intensivist in a leading hospital in Bengaluru.

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