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Ask Dr. Dunn: Hand, foot, and mouth syndrome

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By Maren Dunn, D.O. Health Writer

My child was diagnosed with “hand, foot and mouth disease.” What caused it and are there any long-term complications?
Hand, foot and mouth syndrome, a childhood illness that’s been prevalent in our community recently, is caused by coxsackievirus. This virus spreads through respiratory secretions (saliva, nasal drainage), as well as through fecal-oral contamination.
In infants and toddlers, HFM usually presents as a fever for three to five days, followed by a rash. While the rash can vary in its severity and location, HFM syndrome typically shows up on the palms, feet, buttocks and in the mouth as small, tender spots.
The illness does not cause any long-term problems, but in the short term can cause dehydration and severe discomfort. Treatment is based on mollifying the symptoms: ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain and fever, cool liquids for hydration.
The transmission rate, or degree of infectivity, is about 50 percent in close contacts. Studies have shown households with affected children in diapers seem to spread the illness more efficiently, which is likely due to virus to passing through stool. Adults are usually not affected by the virus, as they typically carry antibodies that protect them.
Coxsackievirus and its cousins echovirus and enterovirus tend to wreak havoc during the summer and fall months. While there is no vaccine, you can protect your family and community by using a good hand washing routine. Even though the virus can spread before symptoms are apparent, it’s always important to keep your child home if he or she develops a fever.

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