Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease: The Basics

hand washing

Most of you are aware of a recent increase around Beijing of cases of hand, foot and mouth disease among children. This very contagious virus has been on a major outbreak since May, and hospitals and clinics are reportedly overflowing. I’ve found a nice description of the basics of hand, foot and mouth disease from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC Features – Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease). Here is the major information:

HFMD: The Basics

  • Usually causes fever, sores in the mouth, and a rash with blisters.
  • Is moderately contagious.
  • Mostly affects children younger than 10 years of age, but people of any age can be infected.
  • Has no specific treatment.
  • Infection risk can be reduced by practicing good hygiene, such as washing hands frequently.
  • Is not the same as foot-and-mouth disease.

What Are the Symptoms of HFMD?
Symptoms usually begin with a fever, poor appetite, malaise (feeling vaguely unwell), and often a sore throat. A couple of days after the fever starts, painful sores can develop in the mouth. A skin rash with flat or raised red spots can also develop, usually on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet and sometimes on the buttocks. This rash may blister, but it will not itch.

Some people with HFMD may only have a rash; others may only have mouth sores. Other people with HFMD may show no symptoms at all.

Is HFMD Serious?
HFMD is usually not serious. The illness is typically mild, and nearly all patients recover in 7–10 days without medical treatment. Complications are uncommon. Rarely, an infected person can develop viral meningitis (characterized by fever, headache, stiff neck, or back pain) and may need to be hospitalized for a few days. Other rare complications can include polio-like paralysis or encephalitis (brain inflammation), which can be fatal.

Is HFMD Contagious?
Yes, HFMD is moderately contagious. The disease is spread by direct contact with nose and throat discharges, saliva, fluid from blisters, or the stool of infected persons.

People with HFMD are most contagious during the first week of their illness, but they can spread the virus that causes HFMD weeks after symptoms have gone away. It is also important to remember that people who get HFMD and show no symptoms of the disease can still spread the viruses that cause it.

Who Is at Risk for HFMD?
HFMD mostly infects children younger than 10 years of age, but older children and adults can also get the disease. Individuals who get HFMD develop immunity to the specific virus that caused their infection. However, because HFMD can be caused by several different viruses, people can get the disease again if they are infected by one of the other HFMD-causing viruses.

Can HFMD Be Treated?
There is no specific treatment for HFMD. Fever and pain can be managed with over-the-counter fever reducers/pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. In addition, individuals with HFMD should drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration (loss of body fluids).

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