Friday 23 March, 2018

What is hand, foot and mouth disease?

In recent days, health officials in both Trinidad and Tobago and the Cayman Islands have reported cases of hand, foot and mouth disease. But what is it and what precautions can you take against it? Loop takes a look.

What is it?

Hand, foot and mouth disease is a relatively common viral illness that mostly affects young children but can occasionally affect adults. It gets its name from the rash that appears about three days after initial infection. Symptoms can sometimes be worse in adults than children.

What are the symptoms?

Early symptoms can include fever, loss of appetite and a sore throat. After a few days, the rash appears. Ulcers can develop in the mouth and greyish blisters on the hands and feet. Some children can also get a rash elsewhere on their body, including their bottom and genital area. People are affected differently - some people may show no symptoms at all. 

How do you treat it?

There is no specific treatment for hand, foot and mouth disease, and in most cases it will clear up by itself after seven to 10 days. People should drink fluids to stay hydrated, eat foods that don’t irritate mouth ulcers and take paracetamol or ibuprofen to help a sore throat (aspirin should not be given to children). Mouthwashes and sprays can also help - consult a pharmacist to see which ones can be used by children.

You may need to see a doctor if symptoms don’t clear up after seven to 10 days, or you or your child have a high fever and/or become dehydrated. Pregnant women should also consult their doctors. 

Can I guard against it?

Hand, foot and mouth disease is infectious and is passed easily from person to person in coughs, sneezes and faecal matter. Outbreaks occur in places like nurseries or schools where there are lots of children in close proximity. People are infectious from a few days before symptoms start.

Basic precautions like frequent and thorough handwashing, using tissues to trap germs and then disposing of them immediately, not sharing towels or crockery, and washing bedding and clothing on a hot wash can all help prevent the spread of the disease.   

Is it the same as foot and mouth disease?

No, it’s different. Foot and mouth disease is a highly contagious viral disease that affects cows, sheep and pigs.

More information is available on the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website or on the UK’s public health NHS website.

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