From preschoolers to pitchers: When hand, foot and mouth disease strikes

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 23, 2018

As hand, foot and mouth disease grabs headlines for striking cities across the U.S. this summer, here’s what you need to know.

It is a common, highly contagious viral infection that usually affects infants and children younger than 5 years old. But, hand, foot and mouth disease also can be spread to older children and adults through contact. It especially thrives in summer.

In the past month, Major League Baseball pitchers Noah Syndergaard and J.A. Happ contracted the virus and landed on the 10-day disabled list. (The New York Post couldn’t help having fun with the story, running a giant HAPP HAZARD headline when the Yankee came down with it.)

Outbreaks have been reported in South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Indiana this summer.

“It is prevalent. We see it every year during warmer weather,” said Dr. Ankur Shah, a pediatrician with Novant Health Pediatrics Blakeney. “It’s pretty much nationwide, and we’ve also seen outbreaks in the winter.”

Normal symptoms 

  • A fever, usually 101 or 102 degrees for a day or two, Shah said.
  • A sore throat, reduced appetite and not feeling well.
  • Mouth sores on the tongue, gums or inside of the cheek.
  • A skin rash or blisters, usually on the palms of the hand and bottom of feet.

The infection can affect any combination of the hands, feet and mouth. “We also see it in the groin area, buttocks, arms and legs,” Shah said.

There isn’t a specific treatment. “Like most viruses, you let it run its course,” he said. “It usually lasts seven to 10 days. As long as the rash is spreading, you should limit contact with other people. Treat the symptoms, use Tylenol or Motrin for the fever.”

Shah said parents’ main concern should be potential dehydration, which can occur when a child’s mouth sores make drinking and eating painful. Children should sip as much fluid as necessary to remain hydrated.

How to avoid it

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom or changing a diaper.
  • Teach children good hygiene. The illness often is spread when children put their fingers, hands or other objects (shared toys, for example) in their mouths.
  • Clean and disinfect high-traffic areas and surfaces often. Children in child care centers are susceptible to hand, foot and mouth disease because of the close quarters and common areas they share.
  • Isolate contagious people. Keep them home from school, work or play activities.

It’s also important for adults to be aware of the infection and follow similar hand washing and cleaning diligence. “We’re seeing it more and more with adults getting it,” Shah said. “It happens, so even at home, continue with good hand washing and hygiene care.”

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