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All You Need To know About HFMD

Young children are often at risk to a variety of contagious illnesses because of the viruses that are present in our environment. Some of these illnesses fortunately fades away on its own without medication and further disruptions to others.

However, there are several that do not only affect your child but also the people around them.

One of these contagious illnesses is the Hand, Foot and Mouth disease (HFMD). If your child suddenly develops painful rashes that are often concentrated on their hands, feet and mouths and they are not going away easily, they may have HFMD.

What is HFMD?

Hand, Foot and Mouth disease is an infectious disease that is caused by enteroviruses most commonly the coxsackievirus. Enteroviruses are known to cause various illnesses, with the coxsackievirus A16 and the enterovirus 71 are the common culprits of HFMD.

Coxsackievirus A16 often induces a milder variation of HFMD. However, the enterovirus 71 triggered HFMD may likely come with severe complications.

Anyone can be infected with HFMD regardless of age or gender. However, children under five years are at a higher risk because their immune systems are not yet fully developed. They also have less antibodies that help fight this infection.

How Does It Spread?

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists down ways the virus can be transferred from person to person:

  • Close contact like sharing cups and eating utensils, as well as hugging and kissing.

  • Coughing or sneezing

  • Having direct or close contact with an infected child’s stool especially during diaper change.

  • Coming in contact with fluid from a popped blister

  • Touching objects or surfaces that are contaminated by the virus

Those with HFMD are mostly contagious during the first week of the illness and signs and symptoms often goes away between 7 to 10 days without needing any medical intervention.

However, they may still transfer the virus even after the symptoms have gone away. The virus can stay inside the person's stools for several weeks after recovery.

It is prudent to seek advice from the doctor before heading to the playground or going back to school.

Signs and Symptoms

A child with HFMD may suffer the following symptoms:

  • Sore throat

  • Fever

  • Throat, tongue and mouth ulcers

  • Rash (or small blisters) found around their hands, feet, mouth and buttocks.

  • Headache

  • Appetite loss

  • Diarrhea

  • Vomiting

Children who have HFMD usually develop fever first before showing any other symptoms. Sores appear a day or two after. After a few more days, rashes would then show on hands and feet, and possibly the buttocks as well.

How fast and how long one show these signs and symptoms differs depending on the person. Some may not even show any of these signs and symptoms, especially if they are adults.

Screening and Diagnosis

Physical examination is often enough to determine if the child has HFMD. The doctor may take throat swab and stool sample to test for the virus.

Treatment and Complications

At the moment, there is no specific cure for HFMD nor is there a prevention vaccine for HFMD. You can protect yourself and your children by nurturing good hygiene habits and strengthening immune system.

Treatment is given to manage the symptoms caused by HFMD and to reduce mild discomfort and pain, if any. You can help your child by

  • Encouraging her to drink a lot of water.

  • Offering easy to eat meals like boiled egg, omelet, soup with soft noodles, Greek yogurt, porridge, tofu.

  • Offering soft fruits like papaya and watermelon

  • Ensuring correct medication is given as prescribed by the pediatrician.

  • Soothing and helping your little one to sleep.

Complications are rare and often associated with the severity of the signs and symptoms that are being experienced by the patient.

Those suffering with mouth ulcers may find it difficult to eat and drink. HFMD may also causes diarrhea and vomiting. All this can lead to moderate to severe dehydration that can be particularly hard on children.

HFMD can also cause other complications depending on the virus that triggered the disease. The EV71 virus, in particular, can cause brain, heart and lung complications and it can become serious overtime.

Some examples of these complications, as cited by studies from the Korean Journal of Pediatrics and the Radiology of Infectious Diseases include brainstem encephalitis, paralysis, neurogenic pulmonary hemorrhage, Myocarditis and pulmonary inflammation.

Other rare complications triggered by HFMD includes:

  • Severe headache and stiff neck

  • Drowsiness

  • Irritability

  • Disorientation

  • Fits

  • Breathlessness

What Can Be Done to Prevent the Spread of this Disease?

If your child (or anyone in the family) has HFMD, you can prevent the spread of this disease by;

  • Cleaning the ill child’s hands regularly, especially before they eat and after going to the toilet.

  • Covering his mouth when he is coughing or sneezing. He can also wear a surgical mask if he is willing.

  • Minimizing contact with other family members, especially if there are other young children.

  • Avoid sharing food, drinks and personal items. Keep her personal belongings separate from the rest of the family's belongings.

  • Keeping him at home and away from public areas.

  • Monitoring other family members in case they begin to show signs or symptoms of HFMD.

  • Informing the school or childcare as soon as possible. They can take appropriate measures at school to clean, disinfected and protect the rest of the children.

  • Practicing proper hygiene and make sure to clean yourself immediately after being in contact with a child who has HFMD, such as washing your hands or changing your clothes.

  • Washing all bedding, curtains, clothes and toys once your child is no longer showing signs of HFMD.

Frequently Asked Questions

When should a child with HFMD be brought to the Emergency Room?

Even when children have HFMD, they may still act and play like they are not ill. You can take them to their regular pediatrician to assess their conditions.

However, you should bring a child with HFMD to the emergency immediately if he or she is exhibiting the following signs:

  • Unable to drink water

  • Vomit frequently

  • Showing sign of severe dehydration such as tongue looking dry or unable to urinate

  • Child is drowsy, irritable, or disoriented

  • If your child has a seizure

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Looks pale and ashen

  • Complains about headache and stiff neck.

What to do when dealing with a child with HFMD while being pregnant?

Pregnant women may risk miscarriage or stillbirth if they contract HFMD. If it is too close to their delivery date, newborn may suffer from complications due to the infection.

Pregnant woman dealing with children with HFMD must always:

  • Practice good hygiene and wash her hands after every contact with the ill child

  • Wear a surgical mask when need to be in close contact especially if the child has a cold and cough

  • Avoid trying to prick blisters. Blister fluid can also transfer infection

  • Avoid sharing anything, from food, drinks to clothes

Can you get HFMD more than once?

A person can contract HFMD more than once. HFMD can be caused by several different enteroviruses.

If a child is re-exposed to the same kind of virus, he or she may be immune to it. However, coming in contact with other virus will unfortunately cause another round of HFMD.

Can you continue breastfeeding even if you have HFMD?

Woman with HFMD can continue to breastfeed as HFMD cannot be transmitted through breast milk.

However, precaution needs to be taken to prevent the virus from transferring to the child. Make sure to clean yourself and your child before and after nursing. You can also wear a surgical mask to protect the child.

HFMD is not considered a serious disease. Complications are very rare and almost everyone recovers within 7 to 10 days without needing any medical treatment or interventions.

Parents are always advised to speak to their pediatrician if they have any questions or concern about their children.


Kally Tay works as a freelance content writer through her website, providing career advice and consultations. She is equipped with many years of experience in Management and various industries including Education, Healthcare, Retail, Advertising, IT, Telecommunications, and E-Commerce specializing in Sales, Customer Service, Project Management and Operations.



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