Hand foot and mouth disease

Hand foot and mouth disease is a common and highly contagious, viral illness that mainly affects kids under 10 (although beware, it can affect older children and even adults). 

While HFMD is mainly caused by the coxsackie virus, there are actually two different kinds of virus that cause it, so symptoms can vary depending on which virus your little one has.

Contrary to popular belief it is possible to contract HFMD more than once however usually symptoms become less severe with each infection, phewww!

Ohhh and you will be pleased to know HFMD has absolutely nothing to do with the disease that affects farm animals called foot and mouth disease.

What are the signs and symptoms of HFMD?

Symptoms of HFMD usually appear 3-7 days after being infected with the virus and can last anywhere from 7 to 10 days.

Depending on which HFMD virus your child has, they will have one of two different types of rash.

Oval shaped fluid filled blisters seen in one or more of the following areas- the palms of the hands, the souls of the feet, inside of the mouth and occasionally around the nappy area.

Or a red rash with a brown scale which is often seen on the outer arms, hands, legs, feet and around the mouth and upper buttocks. The trunk is usually clear and there are not usually blisters in the mouth.

HFMD blisters / rash is not usually itchy, if your child is scratching, the rash may be due to another condition.

Hot tip- If your child has eczema they are at a higher risk of developing a bacterial skin infection as a result of HFMD. Signs of infection include redness that is spreading, pain and swelling. If you think your child has a skin infection you should take them to a doctor immediately as they will require antibiotics. 

Other symptoms of HFMD can include a fever, lethargy, sore mouth and a reduced appetite due to blisters in the mouth, ouch!

How do kids catch HFMD?

Because HFMD is highly contagious we often see outbreaks at daycare, schools and other childcare facilities- which is no surprise because let’s face it, kids are pretty gross.

The main way HFMD is spread is from contact with fluid from HFMD blisters (which burst as your child gets better) or via droplets from coughing or sneezing.

The virus can also live in faeces for up to 2 weeks after the person has recovered, pretty gnarly hey!

Ok so how do i stop my child from passing it on to others?

There are a few things you can do to stop the spread of HFMD including:

  • Burning your house to the ground…just kidding
  • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after handling your child’s body fluids (gross i know) this includes touching blisters, changing nappies / toileting, assisting in blowing little noses and brushing teeth
  • Avoid sharing drink bottles, cutlery, clothing, towels and toothbrushes 
  • Clean and disinfect toys, door handles and surfaces regularly 
  • Keep your child at home and away from others until all blisters have burst and completely dried- this can take up to 10 days

What should I do if I think my child has HFMD?

There are no specific medications to speed up recovery of HFMD. Your child should simply get better on their own in 7-10 days. There are however a few things you can do to keep your little ones safe and comfortable including:

  • With any rash the first thing you should to is check to see if it is blanching or non blanching, a HFMD rash should blanch – any non blanching rash needs to be assessed by a doctor in ED urgently 
  • Consider making an appointment with your GP who can confirm a HFMD diagnosis 
  • Keep your child home and away from others until the blisters have burst and completely dried
  • If your child is off their fluids or food consider giving pain relief such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to help encourage them to eat and drink- mouth blisters can be very uncomfortable for children and as a result dehydration is our main concern
  • Focus on keeping your child well hydrated 
  • Avoid acidic foods such as citrus, fruit juice and tomatoes as they can further irritate mouth blisters
  • Do not pop blisters as this increases the risk of infection- they will burst and heal in their own time
  • As per usual lots of rest, reassurance and cuddles 

My child has been diagnosed with HFMD, what signs or symptoms would indicate I should take them back to see a doctor?

  • Signs of mild dehydration, you can read more about dehydration here!
  • They are refusing to drink fluids 
  • A fever that lasts longer than 48 hours
  • You are concerned for any reason

And when would I take my child to ED or call 000 for an ambulance?

  • Signs of severe dehydration, check out all the info here!
  • A rash that is non-blanching- you can read all about non blanching rashes here!
  • Floppy or unresponsive 

So there you have it folks, all the information you could ever need on HFMD. If you want to learn more about managing childhood illness, injury and emergencies, head to our courses page to find the right course for you!

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