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Release Date: 6/22/2012

Hand, foot and mouth disease more prevalent, severe this year

It sounds like an epidemic that might strike livestock; but hand, foot and mouth disease is definitely a human ailment. And yes, there is more of it going around this summer.

Hand, foot and mouth disease generally strikes children under five years of age, (although it can occur in adults), causing a rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, along with blisters inside the mouth. It often is accompanied by fever.

“This is a common viral illness that becomes active mainly during the summer and fall,” said James Cahalin, M.D., pediatric emergency specialist and medical director of Cardinal Glennon Pediatric Emergency Care at St. Anthony’s Medical Center. “In the United States, the most common cause of hand, foot and mouth disease is the coxsackievirus A16. The problem is that this year the offender is the coxsackievirus CVA6. Because it is a less common strain in this area, kids haven’t built up immunity it to it. So, the illness is more prevalent and more severe than usual.”

Both St. Anthony’s pediatric emergency department and its four urgent care centers have reported seeing an increased number of cases of hand, foot and mouth disease this year, and it probably will continue for at least another month, Dr. Cahalin said.

“The illness usually starts with a fever, followed by tiny blisters inside the mouth,” Dr. Cahalin said. “Then a rash of flat red spots appears on the child’s hands and feet, and sometimes on the knees, elbows, face, buttocks or genital area as well. Parents often become concerned at that point, and bring their toddler to the emergency department or urgent care.”

While hand, foot and mouth disease generally is not serious or long-lived – it’s usually gone in a week – it can be uncomfortable for the child. The blisters in his/her mouth ulcerate, leaving sores that make it painful to eat or drink. Dr. Cahalin recommends a soft, bland diet and non-carbonated, non-acidic drinks. It is important to keep your child hydrated, he said. Give Tylenol or Motrin for fever and pain; and, if mouth pain is severe, use numbing mouthwashes or sprays. If the child’s fever goes over 102 degrees, see a doctor, he said.

“You can’t prevent hand, foot and mouth disease, unless you put your child in a bubble,” Dr. Cahalin said. “The virus is contagious and it can live on surfaces, like toys and countertops. You can disinfect dirty surfaces and soiled items and make sure kids wash their hands frequently; but, realistically, you can’t prevent them from catching the virus. Kids are going to share their toys, their saliva and their food and do all the things they’re not supposed to do.”

The good news is that the course of the illness is short, complications are rare and the virus loses its steam once the weather turns cold, Dr. Cahalin said. “We see this every summer, just not in these numbers,” he said.

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