Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease on the Rise
This summer has seen a significant increase in hand-foot-and-mouth disease cases in several U.S. states. True to its name, the mild but highly contagious illness is characterized by a rash and sores in the mouth and on the hands and feet, and is often accompanied by a fever. The illness is caused by a virus that is easily spread through schools and childcare centers, most commonly affecting children under the age of 10. However, this year, there has also been an unexpected increase in hand-foot-and-mouth disease cases in adults.
The reasons for the rise in hand-foot-and-mouth disease this summer are not clear, although, like the flu, the disease does naturally fluctuate in intensity each season. This year’s spike in outbreaks, and its increased prevalence in adults, means hand-foot-and-mouth disease is something to be particularly aware of until around the end of October.
The first signs of hand-foot-and-mouth disease usually develop three to six days after you or your child are infected. In some individuals, all symptoms are present, whereas in others there are only one or two symptoms. The symptoms typically start with a fever and possibly a sore throat. This is sometimes accompanied with a lowered appetite and a general feeling of being unwell (malaise). A day or two after the onset of the fever, painful sores may form in the mouth or throat, or on the tongue. Following this, a rash may appear on the hands and feet, and occasionally the buttocks. The rash can later turn into blisters, and sores may also appear on the elbows or knees. Infants and toddlers experiencing symptoms may also become irritable.
There is no treatment or vaccine for hand-foot-and-mouth disease. The illness usually passes on its own within 7 to 10 days. However, there are actions that can be taken to alleviate the discomfort while waiting for the illness to run its course.
Children with sores in the mouth may have trouble swallowing, so make sure they get enough to eat and drink. Cold treats such as yogurt, smoothies and ice cream can be eaten to alleviate a sore throat.
Pain from sores can be treated with pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, which are available over the counter. Do not give Aspirin (generic name: acetylsalicylic acid) to children, as it can result in serious illness.
Rashes can be soothed using anti-itch lotions.
Take the following precautions to lower the risk of infection with hand-foot-and-mouth disease for you and your child:
- Follow good hand-washing practices. Always wash your hands before eating or handling food, and after using the washroom or changing a diaper. Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water. Use hand wipes or antibacterial gels when soap and water is not available.
- Help children keep good hygiene. Teach your children to keep themselves clean and to avoid putting their fingers or other objects in their mouths.
- Disinfect your home. Clean surfaces, toys, and pacifiers regularly with soap and water, and then with a diluted solution of chlorine bleach and water. Childcare centers should follow a strict cleaning schedule.
Prevent the Spread of Disease
While hand-foot-and-mouth disease is a mild illness that does not usually require urgent care, it is uncomfortable and highly contagious. People experiencing symptoms should limit their exposure to other people. Sick children should stay home from school or childcare, and affected adults should stay home from work until the fever and other symptoms have disappeared.
If you, or your child, is not feeling well, a visit to one of Physicians Immediate Care’s convenient locations in Illinois and Indiana can alleviate the worry. In addition to caring providers and staff who have been serving patients for more than 30 years, Physicians Immediate Care also offers evening and weekend hours, and no appointment is needed.