Your child has red spots on their hands and feet and suddenly is refusing to eat or drink. Seeing your child in pain or suffering is not something that any parent wants to see. Hand-Foot-and-Mouth disease can do all of these things. In the health field, we have seen quite a bit of this infection going around in the community lately. Despite sounding scary, it is usually a short lived illness that does not require treatment.

Hand-Foot-and-Mouth disease (HFM) is caused by a virus infection. It is usually due to a virus known as coxsackievirus A16 or an enterovirus. Symptoms of the virus include the following:

• Tiny blisters or sores in the mouth at the back of the throat or around the mouth

• Red spots or blisters on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and on the buttocks. Sometimes it spreads up the lower portion of the ankles or wrists.

• Can also have symptoms that are seen with common colds such as fever, runny nose, sore throat or cough

• The hands and feet if involved can be painful and tender to touch

• A few weeks after the infection, children can develop peeling of the hands or feet and/or breakage and peeling of the fingernails or toenails.

The virus does not have to cause sores in all three parts: the hands, feet and mouth. A child may only have sores on one, two or all three of these body parts with the infection. Just because the sores are not present on the feet or hands or in the mouth does not exclude the diagnosis.

HFM disease viruses can be spread by coughing, sneezing, rubbing eyes or touching someone else’s bodily fluids. It can also be spread by the fecal-oral route, meaning that it spreads due to an infected child touching their own buttocks or feces and then not washing hands well before touching another person. Once exposed to HFM disease virus, the patient usually develops symptoms within 3-6 days. Once infected, a child can spread the disease for 2-3 weeks by coughing or sneezing and up to 6 months in their stools. This makes controlling the spread of infection difficult, especially in daycare settings as kids cannot be excluded from school for 6 months at a time.

The following are some tips on how to prevent the spread of HFM virus and how to help manage a child who has developed HFM disease.

• Wash hands well every time a child goes to the bathroom and before eating. Have a child sing the ABCs while scrubbing and washing their hands to encourage good washing.

• Use cleaning supplies to sanitize the toys and the environment around a child to prevent other children from touching and spreading the infection

• Give your child Tylenol or Ibuprofen to help with the pain. The worst pain is usually in the mouth if mouth sores are present. Severe mouth pain can lead to dehydration if not controlled.

• Make sure that the child drinks plenty of fluids even if they do not feel like eating while they have the virus to prevent dehydration.

• Antibiotics will not help improve the infection as this is caused by a virus and antibiotics do not help viruses.

• Do NOT freak out if you see peeling of the hands or feet. This will improve on its own over time.

• Notify the daycare or school to let them know your child has HFM disease so that they can wash and clean the school appropriately to help prevent the spread.

• If the child is refusing to drink and is not urinating well, talk with your doctor about other ways to help prevent dehydration or ways to treat dehydration if it occurs.

— Dr. Jessilyn Humble is a pediatrician at Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg.