Hand, foot and mouth disease is a viral illness that is most commonly identified by its telltale rash. The virus is easily spread through coughing, sneezing or coming into contact with the sore blisters that appear in the mouth or on the feet. While hand, foot and mouth disease typically affects children under the age of 5, a person of any age including adults can contract the virus.
Learn how you can protect your family from contracting the disease or stop it from spreading to others.
What are the first signs of hand, foot and mouth disease?
Hand, foot and mouth disease can take up to several days for the signs and symptoms to appear. And what can be confusing to parents is that early symptoms are similar to those of a common cold. Signs your child may have contracted hand, foot and mouth disease include:
- Sore throat
- Reduced appetite
- Runny nose
- A rash of small blisters that appear on their fingers, hands, feet, inside their mouths and on the buttocks
Symptoms can vary by person, and a pediatrician can confirm a diagnosis. Typically, symptoms are the worst within the first few days. About a week or so after symptoms start, the skin on your child's hands or feet may peel. This is harmless, but be sure to keep the hands and feet clean and don't let your child pick at the peeling skin.
How long is hand, foot and mouth disease contagious?
Hand, foot and mouth disease is most contagious within the first week of contracting the virus, which means children can spread the virus before they even show symptoms. You should let your child's school or daycare know if your child is diagnosed so other parents can be on the lookout.
Fever will typically last two or three days, and mouth sores should go away within a week. Children can usually return to daycare or school once fever has been gone for 24 hours and no new spots are appearing. Children with severe blistering may need to stay home until the blisters dry up.
Treatment options for hand, foot and mouth disease
While there's no treatment to cure hand, foot and mouth disease, there are ways that parents can help alleviate pain and reduce side effects and symptoms.
- Make sure to keep your child hydrated by offering plenty of fluids.
- Give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help with fever or pain.
- Offer a soft food diet and avoid foods that need much chewing. Popsicles and cool drinks may help relieve pain.
- For mouth pain caused by ulcers inside the mouth, talk to your pediatrician about a specialized mouthwash to help. Don't use regular mouthwash as it can sting and irritate the rash.
4 ways to prevent hand, foot and mouth disease
It's not just children who get hand, foot and mouth disease; parents can get it, too! It's important the whole family take steps to avoid contracting and spreading the illness. To help prevent contracting the disease, you should:
- Practice proper handwashing by washing your hands in warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds
- Before you prepare meals, eat and after you eat
- After you use the restroom
- After you change a diaper
- Sanitize toys or objects your child frequently touches, especially those they put in their mouths
- Cough and sneeze into disposable tissues or into your arm; wash hands if they are exposed to mucus or saliva
- Don't share utensils, cups or food
If your child does have the illness, try to limit their exposure to siblings and other children. Remember that not all individuals will get all of the symptoms, but they can still be contagious. Making sure you take proper hygiene precautions can help keep your family and others healthy.
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