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Hand, foot and mouth disease

Although the name may conjure up worrying memories of foot and mouth disease in animals, you can rest assured that hand, foot and mouth disease is a common viral infection that has nothing to do with the condition that affects animals. Hand, foot and mouth disease mainly affects children who are under the age of 10.

What are the symptoms?

The incubation period between being infected by the virus and showing signs of the disease is 3-5 days. The early symptoms can seem a bit like a cold. Your child may have a cough and a temperature. He may lose his appetite, and have a tummy ache and a sore throat.

This is followed a day or two later by red spots inside his mouth – on the inside of the cheeks, gums and tongue. These small red spots develop into mouth ulcers, and your child may have as many as ten ulcers in his mouth. As with any mouth ulcer, they can be extremely uncomfortable and may make it painful to eat or drink.

The mouth ulcers are generally followed by small red spots on the skin, often on the back of the hands and on the side of the heels and fingers. They aren't usually painful but they do sometimes develop into small blisters which may be uncomfortable. The infection can be passed on to another person through the fluid in these blisters if they burst.

Usually, all the symptoms will go within a week, and won't need any medical treatment, but you may wish to contact your family doctor if you have concerns about any of symptoms or if you want to be sure that your child does have hand, food and mouth disease.

How do you catch hand, foot and mouth disease?

Hand, foot and mouth disease is a viral infection, and it is spread through the droplets which people cough or sneeze out. Other people can then breathe them in, or can pick up the virus by touching a surface on which droplets have landed. You can also catch hand, foot and mouth disease if you come into contact with the fluid from the blisters in someone who has the infection.

What treatment can my child be offered for hand, foot and mouth disease?

There is no specific treatment for hand, foot and mouth disease. The symptoms will usually go after a week to ten days. However, you may want to offer some treatment if the symptoms are causing your child distress. Many common painkillers such as paracetemol and ibuprofen come in children's doses and these may be useful to help relieve a temperature or sore throat. Your pharmacist may also be able to suggest an over-the-counter treatment for mouth ulcers suitable for children which may help to relieve any discomfort.

Children with hand, foot and mouth can get dehydrated if they are finding it uncomfortable to swallow, but try to encourage them to drink plenty of fluids to help prevent dehydration. It is best to stick to water and milk as fruit juices are acidic and can be difficult with mouth ulcers. The best types of food to offer are soft or liquid items such as soup or mashed potato which may be easier to swallow.

How soon can my child go back to school or nursery?

Usually it is fine for your child to return to school or nursery as soon as he is feeling better, but check this with the school or nursery as some will have their own rules about this.

Hand, foot and mouth disease will usually clear up by itself without the need for any specific medical treatment within a week. However, if you are worried about any of your child's symptoms, if they are dragging on or if your child shows any other signs of being unwell, it is always important to seek medical advice.

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