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Monday, June 1, 2009

Summertime Viruses: Hand-foot-and-mouth Disease

With summertime, comes summer illnesses, one of the more common childhood illnesses is aptly called Hand-foot-and-mouth disease. This is a viral illness that can be caused by a variety of viruses, though most commonly it is due to an infection with coxsackievirus A16.

Children begin with a fever, usually quite high, which then is followed by sores in the mouth. These sores are painful and may look like little red bumps which then progress to blisters or ulcers. Children often refuse to eat and complain of pain in their mouths' and throats'.

Children generally become ill 3-6 days after being exposed either to someone else with the disease or a virus containing surface. Good hand hygiene and cleaning of toys that the sick child used are important in preventing the spread of the virus. Children are contagious for about a week after onset of illness.

Some children only develop the mouth sores in which case the illness is called Herpangina. Other children will have sores in their mouths' as well as a non-itchy rash on the palms of their hands and soles of their feet, thus the name Hand-foot-and-mouth disease.

The sores are generally gone within a week and children's eating habits will return to normal. During the time of illness, even if your child refuses to eat, it is important to keep him well hydrated. Most children find cool drinks and ice-pops soothing. Pasta or rice with butter is generally well tolerated. Spicy foods, foods hot in temperature or rough in texture, such as toast and crackers may cause pain.

Since a virus causes the illness, there are no antibiotics to help your child fight this infection but you can provided supportive care. You can treat the fever and mouth pain with Tylenol or Motrin. Older children may benefit from an oral analgesic spray such as Chloraseptic. Children over 1 year of age can try a tablespoon of honey to coat the throat.

Any high fever that persists for 5 days should prompt a call to your child's pediatrician. Children who are unvaccinated, who have a compromised immune system or are less than 2 months of age should also be evaluated by a pediatrician.