Almost anyone who cares for a toddler has seen them: sores and blisters in the mouth, on hands and feet, or in between fingers and toes. Hand, foot and mouth disease is a common and highly contagious virus that usually affects children under 5 years old.
However, several cases have been reported on school and college campuses across the country since the beginning of this school year, according to Dr. Jessica Adeleke, a board-certified doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group.
Initial signs of the virus can include fever, reduced appetite, sore throat and lethargy. Within a day or two, painful sores develop in the mouth, and a skin rash featuring small red spots and blisters may appear on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. These spots may also be seen on other areas of the body, such as knees, elbows, bottom and genitals.
According to the National Institutes of Health, roughly 200,000 people are diagnosed with hand, foot and mouth disease each year. The illness is easily spread from person to person through coughing and sneezing or via contact with the fluid released by the blisters or bodily waste.
Once a person has been exposed to the virus, it usually takes three to six days before symptoms appear and the illness can last up to 10 days. Older children and adults may show no signs of the virus, but can still be contagious during the incubation period.
There is no vaccine for the virus. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the following three steps to lower the risk of being infected:
While the illness can cause discomfort for the affected, it rarely leads to serious health complications.
Parents should make sure children are getting enough fluids to stay hydrated because the related mouth sores can cause pain during eating and drinking. Viral meningitis, though very rare, can occur. Look for signs of high fever, headache, stiff neck and back pain.
"Hand, foot and mouth disease does not usually require treatment, but parents and young adults should contact their primary care provider if they think they or their children may have the virus," says Dr. Adeleke. "Those infected should drink lots of fluids, eat foods that do not aggravate the mouth sores, and take a pain and fever reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to relieve discomfort."