Hand foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is an infection caused by certain viruses. Generally children below five years of age or may be up to ten years are affected by this disease, rarely adults may also get infected by the same virus. The disease is known to affect people all over the world but largely Asian population is affected as per various studies conducted.
HFMD should not be confused with a similar disease called foot and mouth disease or hoof and mouth disease affecting only cattle and some other livestock.
The virus coxsackievirus A 16 is the most common virus that causes HMFD and another virus called enterovirus 71 also causes the disease.
It is only since about twenty years ago, the world has come to now of this particular disease. HFMD generally breaks out during summer and spring months. Break out of the disease is found to be community specific.
The disease causes mild rashes that may itch and also spreads to different body parts easily. As the incubation period itself is about three to six days, the disease goes away within a week or two.
Since the symptoms appear on the hand, foot and mouth predominantly, the disease is called HFMD. However the symptoms may appear on the skin or legs or buttocks too.
Is it contagious?
HFMD is a contagious disease and spreads just by personal contact and through saliva and nasal mucus or other respiratory secretions. It also spreads through cough, sneeze and stools. When infected children lay their hands on the stools and then touches the mouth then also the virus infection happens. Nursery school children are more prone to the disease as they can easily get into contact with those already infected or by using objects or tools used by them.
The disease not only spreads by contact of person to person but also by contact of objects touched by infected person. Children, however develop immunity to the disease over a period of time, which explains why the disease affects generally children up to ten years of age and are not affected beyond that age.
Initial symptoms are fever, loss of appetite, tiredness, blisters, mouth and tongue sores, sore throat and rashes on the skin and hand. Head ache and stiff neck may also be experienced by some children. Each child may get different symptom and not all the symptoms. Symptoms like tiredness, sore throat and fever surface one by one giving enough warning of the infection. In some children, the fingernails or toenails are lost on account of the infection but regrow once the child get cured.
The disease is diagnosed by doctors by simple physical examination of the rashes in the mouth or hands and then if necessary by testing the throat swab or stools for confirmation of the disease.
Since the disease goes away by itself without any medication, the child must be made to observe good hygiene habits like washing the hands with soap before and after food, keeping the area dirt free, avoid bodily contact with other infected children like hugging, kissing etc.
Some topical ointments are prescribed by doctors in addition to syrups and lozenges to cure sore throat. Generally doctors do not prescribe any treatment or vaccine for HFMD but only give disease management techniques to be adopted till such time the child is disinfected.
More than treatment of HFMD, preventive measures are vital to avoid infection of the child. This can be done by:
- Teaching the child to frequently wash the hands before and after food and observe good hygiene all the time
- Keep the common area of the dwelling place free of dirt and infection
- Educate the child to avoid keeping playing objects near the mouth or bite them
- Ensure that the toys used by the child are well cleaned
The child affected by HFMD may remain contagious at least up to two weeks and should not be allowed to get into contact with other children. It must be ensured that the child is fully cured before going to the day care or regular school.
Before seeing a doctor for treatment of HFMD, following home remedies may be tried:
- Since a sore throat makes it difficult for the child to swallow, ensure that the child drinks sufficient quantity of liquid food in order to get the required calories of energy to prevent fatigue.
- Washing the mouth with warm water after food.
- Drinking ice water or cold milk.
- Drink yogurt to smoothen the throat.
- Chewing ice chip.
- Eating only soft foods which do not require much chewing.
- Avoid drinking citric fruit juices or aerated beverages like soda.
- Avoid eating salty, spicy and acidic food.
Apart from these, allow the child to take enough rest to recover from the tiredness.