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Protecting your child from hand, foot and mouth disease

Hand, foot and mouth disease is a viral infection mostly common in young children. It is a highly contagious infection characterized by a rash on the hands and feet and sores in the mouth. This common infection floats around during the winter and does not have a specific treatment. This infection is mostly caused by the coxsackievirus.

One should look out for any of the below symptoms in order to rule out the possibility of an infection.

  • Fever
  • A sore throat
  • Rashes with/out blistering on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and buttocks
  • Lesions of the gum, tongue and inside of the cheek. These are extremely red and painful blister-like lesions.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood swings and irritability

The infection usually exists for an incubation period of 3 to 6 days with the first symptom being a fever. A sore throat and a general feeling of being unwell follow. A day or two into the infection, painful sores begin to develop in the mouth. Rashes begin to develop on the hands, feet and buttocks soon after. Hand, foot and mouth disease is a common and minor illness that usually requires no treatment as it subsides automatically within a few days. Fever for a few days and other symptoms are relatively mild. However, if the symptoms continue to be seen after 5-6 days, it is advisable to consult a trained medical professional for a check-up.

The infection is caused by the virus – coxsackievirus A16 and is spread by personal contact with an infected person. Common denominators for the spread of infection are by the following modes:

  • Saliva
  • Nasal Secretions
  • Throat fluid
  • Inhaling infected air from coughing or sneezing by an infected person

The infection is widely spread at places with child setting like daycare centres, where diapers are frequently changed and kids being given potty training. This happens mostly because children have the habit of putting their hands in their mouth. Though the virus clears itself within a few days, the virus itself can stay behind in the body for many more weeks without showing any more symptoms and further affecting the health. In some cases, adults are responsible for spreading the virus while they themselves do not exhibit any signs of the infection.

Farm animals are known to contract a similar disease called the Foot-and-mouth disease. However, the hand, foot and mouth disease cannot be contracted or transferred to or from animals.

Most of the time, the disease shows mild symptoms only but in some complicated cases, the person may show signs of dehydration. Due to the sores in the mouth, swallowing food/fluids is a painful job. Fluid intake should be increased during the course of the infection. In some extreme dehydration cases, administering intravenous fluids might be necessary.

Given below are a few tips on how to safeguard your child from the hand, foot and mouth disease.

  • Ensure hygiene and good sanitation – Children should be taught well the etiquettes of good hygiene and how to ensure cleanliness at all times. They should be trained to not put their hands in the mouth.
  • Washing hands thoroughly – Hands should be washed with a mild soap properly and frequently. This is all the more important after changing diapers, using the washroom and while handling eatables.
  • Disinfecting – Places where a lot of people have access to should be frequently and thoroughly disinfected so as to get rid of any stagnant viruses. Places like the childcare centres ought to regularly disinfect common areas and articles of common use like toys and other objects.
  • Staying away from infected people – Owing to the highly contagious nature of the disease, the child’s exposure should be limited from any person showing any remote signs of the infection.

With age, children become immune to the virus as the body has built antibodies to fight the infection, however recurrences are seen in children sometimes.

 By Dr. Jyothi RaghuramSenior Consultant  paediatrics, Columbia Asia Hospital Whitefield

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