Speaking of Health

By Gilda Morales, ANP, DC

Today’s column veers away from adult conditions and toward a common illness of childhood, and one, which produced a bit of a scare here in Van Horn a few weeks ago—hand, foot and mouth disease.   This disease is caused by a virus and has classic characteristics that make it hard to misdiagnose.  It is most common in the summer and fall and is extremely contagious, and as such it easily infects mainly children under the age of five in close settings such as daycare or school, or among family members.   Since it is transmitted by air droplets, respiratory secretions, or the fecal-oral route, the best way to prevent the spread of this disease is to observe fastidious hand washing.

Signs and symptoms of this disease includes a history of being around ill contacts, low –grade fever and malaise usually one to two days before the appearance of the characteristic wide-spread rash.  There can also be sore mouth with blisters, loss of appetite, runny nose, diarrhea and abdominal pain.  Bone and joint aches may be present but only rarely.

Treatment of this disease involves symptomatic relief of the pain and discomfort of the rash and oral lesions and more importantly, keeping the patient hydrated, by IV if necessary.  The pain of the oral ulcers may be treated by the use of a topical antihistamine or anesthetic directly to the sores, and acetaminophen may be used for the low-grade fever and malaise.

Fortunately, hand-foot-and-mouth disease is self-limiting and usually resolves on its own within 7 to 10 days.