Hand, foot and mouth disease is highly contagious. It is caused by viruses included in the Enterovirus family, specifically the coxsackievirus. Remember that these viruses can spread from one individual to another via direct contact with dirty hands or surfaces contaminated with feces. It can also spread from contact with the stool, saliva or respiratory secretions from an infected individual.
This infection involves the development of blisters or sores in the mouth along with rash on the feet and hands. The infection can affect individuals of all ages but typically occurs among children below 5 years old. Essentially, it is a mild condition that improves on its own within several days.
What are the indications?
The signs and symptoms usually manifest within 3-7 days after the initial infection which is the incubation period. Once the symptoms manifest, the child might experience the following:
- Poor appetite
- Sore throat
- Red rash on the hands and soles of the feet
- Sore, reddened blisters in the mouth
Sore throat and fever are the initial symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease. The distinctive rashes and blisters later manifest usually 1-2 days after the fever starts.
Who are at risk?
Young children face the highest risk for acquiring hand, foot and mouth disease. The risk increases among those who attend daycare or school due to the rapid spread of the viruses.
Children eventually build up immunity to the disease after exposure to the viruses responsible. This is the reason why the condition rarely affects children over 10 years old. Nevertheless, it is still possible for older children and even adults to acquire the infection especially if they have weakened immune systems.
How is it diagnosed
The doctor will diagnose the condition by performing a physical exam. The doctor checks the mouth and the body for the appearance of rashes and blisters. In addition, the doctor will also check for other accompanying symptoms.
A throat swab or stool sample will be taken for analysis in order to confirm a diagnosis of the infection.
Treatment of hand, foot and mouth disease
In most instances, the infection subsides without treatment in 7-10 days. Nevertheless, the doctor might recommend treatment measures to alleviate the symptoms until the disease has run its course such as the following:
- Over-the-counter or prescription topical ointments to soothe the rashes and blisters
- Pain medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to minimize the intensity of the headaches
- Medicated lozenges or syrups to alleviate the sore throat
There are also home measures that can provide relief to the symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease. These remedies can help alleviate the bothersome blisters:
- Provide the individual with cold beverages to drink
- Suck on ice or popsicles
- Avoid spicy or salty foods
- Avoid fruit beverages, fruits and soda
Additionally, swishing warm salt water around the mouth can also relieve the pain linked with a sore throat and mouth blisters. Perform this several times throughout the day or as often as necessary.