(Chester County Moms)

If you are a mom with a child in daycare or preschool, then you've probably received one or two infamous and dreaded "Dear Parents" letters in your child's school mailbox or folder. The letters typically go something like this...

"Dear Parents,

We wanted to inform you that a child in our program has been diagnosed with ... (insert childhood infection name here)."

You get that letter, you take a deep breath, and you hope beyond hope that your child doesn't pick up the illness-du-jour.

One infection that goes around from child to child is Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease, a common illness caused by the Coxsackie A virus. It typically affects young children, ages 6 months through 4 years during the warmer months, but it can occur in children up to 10 years old. Occasionally, adolescents and adults can also be affected, but usually they have the antibodies to protect them.

How to recognize it
Symptoms for Hand-Foot-Mouth may present themselves differently in different children. Some may have all these symptoms, others might only show a few.

  • Fever: A mild fever may occur for three to four days.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Malaise: Feeling vaguely unwell.
  • Ulcers: This disease is characterized by small ulcers or blister-like bumps in the mouth. The lesions in the mouth usually appear on the tongue, the insides of the cheeks, near the throat or on the tonsils. The sores may be painful.
  • Blisters/Rash: There will also be water blisters or red spots on the palms of the hands and on the soles of the feet. Small blisters may also appear in the diaper area and/or on the legs and arms. These blisters may be tender and painful.
  • Possible nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Possible Upper Respiratory Infection
  • Possible headache

How it transfers
The virus is spread through person-to-person contact. It can be transferred from direct contact with nose and throat discharges, saliva or fluid from the blisters. You are most contagious the first week you have the disease, and it is important to know that it may several days for symptoms to appear after first being infected. The virus can remain in the body after the symptoms subside, and it is possible to spread the infection during this time.

How to avoid it
Although there is no known cure, thorough and routine hand-washing is necessary to help prevent the spread of the Coxsackie A virus. Cleaning and disinfecting dirty surfaces and soiled items that may have been exposed will also help.

How to treat Hand-Foot-Mouth at home

  • Because the blisters appear in the oral area, avoid juices and sodas with a high acidic nature, salty foods and spicy fare. Instead, offer plenty of fluids and a soft, easy-to-eat diet. Cold milk products may feel soothing. For fever or pain, ibuprofen or acetaminophen will be helpful.
  • Treatment with antibiotics is not effective.
  • Aspirin should not be used in viral illnesses in children under age 12.
  • Generally, complete recovery occurs in 5 to 7 days.

If your child experiences any of the following, contact your physician immediately:

  • Your child refuses to drink.
  • Your child becomes dehydrated. (Watch for signs of dehydration including dry skin, weight loss, irritability, lethargy, or decreased or dark urine.)
  • Your child has not urinated in more than 8 hours.
  • Your child's neck becomes stiff or he/she experiences pain in the arms or legs.
  • Your child becomes confused or delirious.
  • Your child becomes hard to awaken completely.

As moms, we do our best to provide a healthy and germ-free environment for our kids, but know that at some point they may catch what is going around in spite of our best efforts. Coxsackie A is one of those common illnesses among children that can be hard to completely avoid since it is contagious before the symptoms present themselves.
If your child has been diagnosed with Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease, please contact your child's care provider out of courtesy so that they can inform other parents to know to look out for signs and symptoms.

(Please note: There is no connection between the human infection called Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease and the animal disease called Hoof-and-Mouth disease.)

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