Hand, foot and mouth (HF&M) disease is a really common viral infection in young kids (mostly under age 6) but it can also affect older kids and even adults at times. The usual culprit is Coxsackie virus, a type of enterovirus that seems to flourish around this time of year. It causes the tell-tale blisters that are usually slightly oval-shaped, and despite the name of the condition, can occur anywhere on the body. Sore throat (from blisters inside the mouth – ouch!), loss of appetite, mild fevers and diarrhoea can all be associated. It is so highly contagious that it is not unusual to see whole classes come down with varying degrees of the infection within a week or two.
The main thing to know about viral infections is that they are mostly managed just with supportive cares – the recovery is up to the body’s own immune system. Soft and cool foods can be more comfortable to eat, plenty of fluids help prevent dehydration, and simple analgesia may help the sore throat. A review with a doctor is a good idea if in any doubt and it is reassuring to know that the blisters will heal without any scaring.
Occasionally HF&M infections can be quite serious, and so it is really important to try and curb the spread of infection by isolation and careful hygiene. The blisters are highly contagious for the virus, and children should not return to school until they have crusted over or peeled (similar to chickenpox blisters). It is also interesting to note that the enterovirus is carried in stools for 4 weeks after the infection (and is contagious this whole time) so it pays for everyone in the house to practice good hygiene to prevent further infection. Hand washing is a great way to help with this!
Dr Cath Hester
These articles are not intended to replace a one-to-one relationship with a qualified health professional or as specific medical advice. They are intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from experience and research in the scientific literature. I encourage you to make your own health care decisions based upon a partnership with a qualified health care professional.