If you’ve got a child in Singapore, chances are you’ve heard of hand, foot and mouth disease. But, what exactly is it and what are the symptoms of HFMD? Here, DR ARTI JAISWAL, children’s doctor at IMC Paediatric, explains everything you need to know about the illness.
What is hand, foot and mouth disease?
Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is a common and highly contagious viral illness caused by a family of viruses called Enterovirus. Both adults and children can contract the illness, though children below five years of age are most susceptible.
In tropical climates such as Singapore, HFMD is endemic, occurring year-round with outbreaks often occurring in schools and childcare centres. In cooler climates, outbreaks most often happen in the summer and fall.
How does it spread?
The viral illness is spread from person to person by direct contact with the nasal secretions, saliva, stools and fluid from the blisters of an infected person.
People are most contagious the first week they are sick. However, because symptoms of HFMD usually take three to seven days to show up after being infected, many people don’t know they have it; they can therefore continue to spread the virus in group settings.
What are the symptoms of HFMD?
The illness usually begins with non-specific symptoms of fever (which can last two to three days), poor appetite and general feelings of discomfort. Some children may have a runny nose or sore throat. Others may experience excess drooling or vomiting.
Then, one to two days after the onset of fever, children with HFMD will develop painful sores or ulcers in the mouth. They will also develop a non-itchy rash, ranging from red spots to small blisters on the hands and feet. This is the signature of the illness – hence it’s name!
Some children may also have the rash around their mouth, buttocks, arms and legs.
While it may sound scary, the illness is typically mild, and complications are uncommon. In fact, most children with HFMD are relatively well and active despite their illness.
Can adults get infected?
Adults and older children usually have a milder form of the disease, and they may pass on the virus without knowing they have it. Sometimes, however, they can have severe symptoms.
How is HFMD treated?
As HFMD is a viral illness, the treatment is aimed at easing discomfort. Pain from mouth sores and discomfort due to fever can be simply managed with ibuprofen or acetaminophen (including Tylenol) if needed.
Occasionally, severe ulcers in the mouth can be painful and may interfere with eating and drinking. However, it’s important to encourage children to drink adequate fluids to prevent dehydration. Try cold foods such as popsicles, frozen yoghurt and ice cream, and soft foods such as porridge, pureed fruit and Jello.
What should I do if I suspect my child is infected?
The MOH advises that parents consult their paediatrician early if they suspect their child may have HFMD. Also, informing your child’s childcare centre or school early is key so that they can monitor other children closely and take additional precautions.
If you or your child is infected, it’s vital to remain at home and avoid public places such as shopping malls, playgrounds, buses and trains.
Kids with HFMD should especially avoid contact with other children until all the blisters have dried up, which typically takes seven to 10 days from the start of illness.
Is it possible to get it more than once?
Yes, you can get it more than once, just like you can catch a cold or flu more than once. Specific immunity can occur, but a second or third episode is possible from a different strain of the virus.
Is there any way to prevent HFMD?
There are certain precautions you can take to help reduce the risk infection, and the spread of hand, foot and mouth disease. Here are three important ones:
#1 Wash hands
This is the best protection. Remind everyone in your family to wash their hands well and often, especially after using the toilet, after changing a nappy, before meals and before preparing food.
#2 Disinfect surfaces and toys
Shared toys in childcare centres should be cleaned often with a disinfectant, as the virus can live on these objects for days. The same goes for any high-traffic area or commonly touched surface.
#3 Isolate contagious people
Kids who are sick with HFMD should be kept out of school or childcare for a few days to avoid spreading the infection. Adults who are sick should do the same to prevent the spread.
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