Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease


Have a family member with hand, foot and mouth disease? Be sure to wash your hands regularly.
Have a family member with hand, foot and mouth disease? Be sure to wash your hands regularly.
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Before 1995, U.S. parents sometimes held "chickenpox parties." A neighborhood child laid up with the itchy bumps would be invited to mingle with healthy kids in the hopes that they would develop immunity to the virus due to exposure.

While we can now inoculate our little ones against chickenpox, there's an assortment of other illnesses that prefer children as their hosts.

Croup, for example, with its signature barking cough, most often finds its home in a 2-year-old's body. Impetigo, a highly contagious bacterial skin infection, targets kids ages 2 to 6. And hand, foot and mouth disease, a viral illness, tends to select its victims from the 5-and-under pool.

If you mention that your child has hand, foot and mouth disease to someone without a medical background, we can almost guarantee that someone will say, "Wait, don't you get that from pigs?" Rest assured that hoof-and-mouth disease is not the same thing, although it's sometimes called foot-and-mouth disease, further adding to the confusion. (Some very literal people named both illnesses.) It's not the same virus.

The culprit behind hand, foot and mouth in the U.S. is usually a coxsaccievirus (coxsackievirus A16 is the most prevalent), and the virus crops up in summer and fall. In east and Southeast Asia, enterovirus 71 sometimes strikes, and with deadlier results; 153 deaths were reported in Vietnam between Jan. 1 and Nov. 15, 2011 [source: World Health Organization]. Most cases of hand, foot and mouth disease, however, are mild, as we'll discuss on the next pages.

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