You start the day off like any other day, chasing your little one around the house trying to get him dressed. As the morning wears on, you notice little changes in his behavior. He’s suddenly tired and cranky, when he's usually excited to go outside to run and play. Wait, does he feel hot? Your wheels start turning: Has he been around anyone sick? What can you do to help him feel better? What' going on? Giving him a full once-over, you notice tiny bumps around his hands and feet.
You've heard of hand, foot & mouth disease; is that what this is? You check the Internet. Symptoms of hand, foot and mouth (weird name), or HFMD, include fever, mouth sores and a skin rash. The disease is different with each child, and some kids can experience symptoms more powerfully than others. Tracey McCallion, a mom of a 1 year old, recently traveled to the Dominican Republic where her tot contracted the virus. McCallion was told, "It’s as common as a cold in the Dominican Republic."
This highlights the importance of protecting your children against the virus as the summer travel season begins. But how? At home or on vacation, how can you protect your children and what do you do if your child contracts it?
It's a Contagious Virus
Kate Carlson, M.D., assistant medical director and pediatrician at Vanderbilt Pediatric Primary Care Clinic, says, “Hand, foot and mouth disease is an illness caused by a virus that can last three to five days in children ages 5 and younger. It causes ulcers in the back of the throat and in the mouth, ulcers and/or blisters on palms of the hands and soles of the feet.” Typically, children with HFMD run a fever.
Like other viruses, it can be passed from one child to another. Carlson says a child can unknowingly be a "carrier," or even have a mild case of it, and pass it along. Once you see ulcers or other signs, keep your child away from other kids. The virus can suppress the immune system of babies, elderly and people undergoing medical treatments,
Carlson says ulcers appear in the mouth first. And, because it’s a viral, antibiotics won't work. See your pediatrician to help determine the best course of treatment for your child. If you're traveling, call your pediatrician at home for advice.
Carlson advises over-the-counter pain medicine for little ones and plenty of fluids — for instance, ibuprofen on a scheduled six-hour basis followed by a big sippy cup of water. “Don’t worry about giving them solid food; liquids are the most important thing,” Carlson says. “Some kids do well with warm liquids like lukewarm hot chocolate, tea, etc. Some kids may like colder things like slushies and popsicles.” If your child's in pain because of mouth ulcers, and avoiding liquids, he may become dehydrated, so you really need to monitor his intake. Throat lozenges may soothe older kids' mouths (where they don't pose a choking hazard).
The good thing is this virus typically goes away with hardly any treatment. Your little one will happily be playing in the yard in no time!