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Hand, foot and mouth disease: What you need to know

Main Line Health September 29, 2016 Wellness Articles

News of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) has made its timely entrance into the news cycle. Since a Florida university experienced an outbreak of the viral infection in September, there has been heightened awareness surrounding the virus, its symptoms, and its causes. And, unless you or a family member has been infected with it in the past, you may be wondering, too.

Below, Lauren Baker, DO, family practice physician at the Main Line Health Center in Collegeville answers some of the most commonly-asked questions about HFMD and how you can protect yourself.

What are the symptoms of HFMD?

Some of HFMD’s symptoms—like a fever and sore throat or difficulty swallowing—aren’t anything alarming, and might make you think it’s a case of strep throat, a cold or the flu. However, HFMD is also often accompanied by painful mouth sores, and flat red spots or blisters on different areas of the body, including hands, legs, feet, elbows and even the genital area.

If you’re starting to see little red spots popping up in these areas or experiencing throat and mouth pain, it’s typically a sign of HFMD.

How is it transmitted?

Unfortunately, HFMD is easy to get and easy to share. The infection is spread through close contact, which could be something as simple as hugging, kissing, or shaking hands with an infected individual. The transmission of bodily fluids can also lead to a diagnosis, so try to limit the sharing of cups or silverware, and wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom or changing a child’s diaper.

If you’re diagnosed with HFMD, make sure to keep coughs and sneezes to yourself, wash your hands often with soap and warm water, and try to be as diligent as possible about wiping down areas or objects that you may have touched to prevent the spread of infection.

I thought HFMD only affected children.

Although it is most common among children—and especially easy to transmit in places like daycares and school classrooms—HFMD can affect anyone of any age.

How long do symptoms last?

This can vary for each individual, but the symptoms of HFMD usually last about 10 days.

Am I more at risk for it during the winter?

Winter is a popular time for diseases like the flu, cold, and pneumonia, but HFMD is most common in the summer and fall. In tropical climates, an outbreak can occur at any time of year.

How can you treat HFMD?

There is no specific treatment for HFMD. However, there are ways to help improve your symptoms. An oral anesthetic can relieve pain as a result of mouth sores, and over-the-counter pain relievers can improve general discomfort.

Is there any way to prevent HFMD?

Fortunately, HFMD is easily preventable with good hygiene and awareness of susceptible environments. Use these four tactics to protect yourself:

  • Wash your hands often and thoroughly, especially before preparing a meal, after going to the bathroom or changing a diaper, and making person-to-person contact during the months when an outbreak is more likely.
  • Clean and disinfect toys, counters, and other objects/surfaces regularly. In classrooms and daycares, and even at home, infection can be spread easily. Keep yourself and others protected by using disinfectant to clean often-used objects and surfaces.
  • Try to avoid touching your face if you have not washed your hands.
  • Avoid close contact with those who are infected with HFMD. If you need to make close contact with someone with HFMD, follow the steps above to prevent it from spreading.

If you think you or a loved one may have been diagnosed with HFMD, call your pediatrician or family physician to report your symptoms. You should also alert other individuals, like teachers or babysitters, about the diagnosis so that they can begin prevention tactics and look for symptoms in others.

Main Line Health primary care physicians have offices in many convenient locations near or in our hospitals and health centers, and other convenient outpatient settings throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. Visit our website to find a Main Line Health primary care physician in your area. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.