Hand, foot and mouth disease

Last updated 08:26 17/06/2013

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Contagious hand, foot and mouth disease is spreading around childcare centres. Here's what it is and how to treat it.

What is it?

Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is a very common and non-serious viral infection that rarely causes complications. It is not related to the similarly-named foot and mouth disease that affects animals. HFMD is mainly seen in young children or babies and most people have contracted the infection by the time they reach adulthood. Once your child has had HFMD they are not likely to get it again.

What are the causes?

HFMD is caused by a virus, most usually the Coxsackie A16 virus and is spread by coughing, sneezing and direct physical contact with someone who is infected. It can also remain in bowel movements for several weeks after the initial infection.

HFMD tends to occur in warmer weather and spreads easily. As such an infection in the classroom or childcare centre is likely to spread throughout the room to anyone who is not yet immune. As always with a virus, good hygiene - regular washing of hands, washing soiled clothing and avoiding the sharing of cups and utensils - is the best way to minimize the risk of infection.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms usually start three to five days after being in contact with the virus and can last for up to 10 days. Common symptoms include:

  • A high temperature
  • Runny nose and sore throat
  • Lack of appetite
  • Small blisters on the hands and feet and blisters or ulcers in the mouth. These usually appear between 24 - 48 hours after the other symptoms have started
  • If your child is in nappies, they may also develop blisters in the genital area and on the bottom
  • General tiredness

What are the treatments?

There is no treatment that will cure HFMD - it will disappear naturally over seven to 10 days. Being a virus, antibiotics are of no use, so treatments should centre on making your child feel more comfortable. These treatments may include:

  • Give pain relief such as paracetamol to reduce your child's temperature.
  • Keep up your child's fluids, but avoid acidic drinks such as orange juice. The acidity can hurt any blisters or ulcers in your child's mouth.
  • Don't pop the blisters (and try to discourage your child from scratching them). Leave them to dry out naturally.
  • Give your child plenty of rest.

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If your child gets a persistent headache, a stiff neck or back pain, immediately seek medical advice from your family doctor or an emergency department.

- Essential Kids


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