How to Prevent Childhood Infections

Preventing Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Infants and toddlers infected with hand-foot-and-mouth-disease can be irritable.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD) is usually caused by coxsackievirus A16 (named after Coxsackie, New York, where it was first found), a virus that is part of the enterovirus group. Other enteroviruses might lead to HFMD, as well.

Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease Infection Information

HFMD is a mild, but highly contagious, infection that starts with a sore throat, low-grade fever, headache, and loss of appetite (infants and toddlers with HFMD can be irritable). The infection is spread through direct contact with the saliva, mucus, blister fluid, or feces of infected people. Within one or two days, sores develop on the tongue, gums, and inside of the cheeks.

Likewise, a skin rash of red spots or blisters may appear on the palms of the hands, fingers (especially on the sides), soles of the feet, and, sometimes, buttocks. HFMD is not the same as foot-and-mouth disease (also called hoof-and-mouth disease), which is found in cattle, sheep, pigs, and other animals.

The majority of HFMD cases are minor, and most people recover in seven to ten days without medical treatment. However, dehydration is common because the sores in the mouth can make swallowing difficult. In rare cases, someone infected with HFMD can also develop viral meningitis (inflammation of the membranes and fluid that surround the brain and spinal cord) or other serious diseases, such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and a poliolike illness that causes paralysis. Serious outbreaks of this infection have occurred in Southeast Asia over the past few years.

Who's at Risk for Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease?

HFMD occurs primarily in children younger than 10, including infants, but anyone can contract it. Pregnant women should be especially wary of this disease. Infection at the time of delivery can, in rare cases, cause life-threatening illnesses in a newborn.

Defensive Measures Against Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease

There is no vaccine to prevent HFMD, but standard preventive measures can help. Don't share eating utensils or drinking glasses, avoid close contact with infected people, don't touch blisters or lesions, wash your hands thoroughly and often, cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, wash and disinfect toys and common surfaces, and keep children who have a fever or open sores away from child-care settings.

Head lice can spread like wildfire among children and can cause itching and small red sores. Go to the next page to learn about preventing and eradicating these persistent vermin.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.