Hand foot and mouth disease

Let’s get this over with at the outset – Hand, Foot and Mouth disease is NOT the same as foot and mouth. Your child didn’t get it from a cow and you won’t need to put the whole neighbourhood into quarantine! In fact, chances are that your child will have recovered fully within days.

Let’s get this over with at the outset – Hand, Foot and Mouth disease is NOT the same as foot and mouth. Your child didn’t get it from a cow and you won’t need to put the whole neighbourhood into quarantine! In fact, chances are that your child will have recovered fully within days.

What is it?

Hand, foot and mouth is an infection caused by a virus. Although, as the name suggests, it usually affects the mouth, hands and feet, it can also cause blister on the buttocks and the genital region. Like so many other virus infections, it tends to peak at certain times of year – although unlike winter colds and ‘flu, it’s most common in summer and early autumn.

Who gets it?

Anyone can get hand, foot and mouth, although it’s most common in the under 10s and under 5s often get the worst symptoms. Adults can also catch it (especially if they didn’t have it in childhood themselves), but they tend to be less poorly than children when they do.

It’s mostly spread by the faecal oral route (yes, I do mean not washing your hands properly after visiting the smallest room in the house!) and the symptoms start about a week after you come into contact with someone who’s infected. It ofte#n spreads like wildfire through nurseries and schools because it’s highly infectious.

What are the symptoms?

Your child may first complain of tiredness, feeling hot and being off their food. A couple of days later, they are likely to get red patches on their tongue and the inside of the mouth, which turn into blisters and then sore ulcers.

About ¾ of people with hand, foot and mouth also get itchy red patches on their hands and feet (including between the fingers and toes) which change into blisters filled with clear greyish fluid. Similar blisters on the rest of the body are less common.

Do I need to worry?

The vast majority of children with hand, foot and mouth recover completely within a week. In the meantime, they may feel very sorry for themselves and will need lots of attention. It’s important to encourage them to drink as much as possible, as they may be put off eating and drinking by soreness in the mouth. Ibuprofen or Paracetamol will help with the discomfort, but if it’s not enough you can ask your pharmacist or GP about a pain relieving mouth gel or spray.

Most schools and nurseries don’t require you to keep your child off school until all the blisters have completely healed. However, they’ll need to be at home for about a week until they’re back to their normal perky selves.

Look out for signs of dehydration – including sunken eyes, dry nappies for several hours and excessive listlessness – especially in children under 2. If you’re concerned, speak to your GP. Sometimes the blisters get infected with a bacterial infection, causing red, hot, angry areas on the skin, sometimes with yellow pus. These need treatment with an antibiotic from your GP.

Hand foot and mouth very rarely causes any serious complications but if your child is seriously unwell or develops other symptoms, do seek help. But this really is rare – for most children and their families, a week or two of TLC and extra careful handwashing should see them back to normal.

With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.