From late March through August, hand, foot, and mouth disease can occur in all populations, but usually affects children under the age of seven. This often self limiting disease can often mimic other more serious diseases.
Hand, foot, and mouth disease is the body's response of infection by a Coxsackievirus. This may sound scary, but the disease itself usually lasts about ten days and produces symptoms similar to the common cold with the addition of the small reddish spots that can appear on the hands, feet and within the mouth. These spots can occur on one, two, or all three of these areas or none at all. Fevers, occasional nausea and vomiting along with fatigue and lethargy can occur with hand, foot, and mouth disease. Infections usually occur two to three days after exposure to the virus. Infection from exposure to respiratory droplets and saliva are often the primary spread of the illness. If the lesions on the hands, but more often the legs and feet, become open; they also can be contagious. Hand, foot, and mouth disease can also be spread from a fecal to oral route. Good hand hygiene as well as covering one's mouth when sneezing/coughing is key to stopping the spread of hand, foot, and mouth disease. There are no current vaccines that are available to prevent hand, foot, and mouth disease.
Diagnosis is usually made from a clinical standpoint. That is, laboratory testing is not often used for diagnosis. Once the diagnosis of hand foot and mouth is made within a community (or daycare/school) during the late spring/early summer months, it is very common to see many more cases in the next few weeks due to the easy spread of the virus.
The main course of the disease lasts approximately ten days and can be quite painful for younger children, especially if lesions appear in the mouth. Over the counter medicines such as Tylenol and ibuprofen are effective in treating the pain and fevers associated with hand, foot, and mouth disease. It may be necessary to use prescription medicines to help heal mouth lesions and relieve pain. The key is to keep up with hydration by drinking enough water to prevent dehydration.
While hand, foot, and mouth disease can look painful and appear to be a serious disease, it is often fairly short lived and is easily treated with over the counter medicines. If you or your children show signs and symptoms of hand, foot, and mouth disease and you do not feel comfortable treating it from home, contact your primary care provider to schedule an appointment.