Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is caused by enteroviruses which has many strains. The disease mostly affects young babies and children aged less than five years old. It usually occurs all year round, but is most commonly found in the rainy season with its cold and dampness. Hand, foot and mouth disease is usually a minor illness and can be cured. In rare cases, when there are other health complications, the disease can be fatal and cause deaths.
People who are infected will suffer from fever while small children may suffer from high fever. One or two days after the onset of the disease, the infected child will experience a sore throat, being able to eat less with babies also refusing to drink the mother’s breast milk. On examining the mouth, one will find red spots or clear fluid on the membrane around the mouth and tongue. The child will have a rash on their hands and feet. The red spots will turn into blisters, pop open and eventually dry up, usually leaving no marks. The symptoms should improve and the disease cured by itself within 7–10 days.
Although hand, foot and mouth disease is curable and often goes away by itself, some cases may result in the disease spreading to other areas, which could lead to serious infections of the central nervous system. Potential complications arising from hand, foot and mouth disease include, for instance, meningitis, encephalitis or circulatory disorders which are a major case of heart failure and even death. Statistics show that there are very few confirmed deaths related to hand, foot and mouth disease in Thailand per year.
The spread of hand, foot and mouth disease
Hand, foot and mouth disease is spread from person to person through contact with the virus, which can be found in feces, pus from skin lesions, as well as molecules in phlegm or saliva. This means that food, drinks and toys can easily become contaminated with the virus, while otherwise harmless behavioral factors, such as a child sucking his or her fingers, can also result in contraction of the disease. If children are in a place where there are numerous other infants around, such as a nursery or playgroup, the chances of the disease spreading are significantly increased.
There are currently no vaccinations available for hand, foot and mouth disease, so the most effective form of prevention is to follow these instructions to maintain good hygiene.
1. Wash hands with soap or use alcohol gel before and after eating and going to the bathroom.
2. Keep the fingernails clipped and keep the body clean.
3. Avoid sharing personal items such as drinking glasses, spoons, forks, handkerchiefs, hand towels and toothbrushes with others.
4. Keep toys and the house in general clean.
5. Instruct your children and their nannies on how to maintain proper hygiene.
6. Try to avoid being in congested areas such as shopping malls, markets and swimming pools
7. Closely observe any abnormalities that the children are exhibiting. If there are any signs indicating that the child may be suffering from hand, food and mouth disease, take the child to visit a doctor as soon as possible
8. Follow the guidelines and be more careful, when you take young children with you to visit a country where the disease is spreading, and there will be nothing to worry about.
Basic advice regarding the care provided to someone with hand, foot and mouth disease
Children infected with the disease should be kept apart from others to ensure the disease is contained. Once the child has attended a doctor’s appointment, it is recommended that they are kept home for at least 5-7 days, or until they have made a full recovery. During this time, parents should be sure to keep a close eye on the infant in case any irregularities occur and, if suspicious symptoms, such as vomiting, seizures and a distinct change in mood affect the child, they should be taken to hospital immediately.
Furthermore, infected children should be kept away from cramped spaces, particularly during the infectious period. Masks should be worn to cover the nose and mouth to protect against others contracting the disease via coughs and sneezes, and parents should be as careful as possible when tending to their child’s hygiene needs.
With best wishes by Samitivej Hospital
Information from Child Health Institute
The First Class Honors M.D., Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, 2004.
M.D., Faculty of Medicine, Mahidol University, 2000.