What parents should know about this highly infectious disease
We know that animals can get foot and mouth disease, but it is less well known that humans can also contract hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD). The appearance of this fairly common and highly contagious viral infection that affects mainly infants and children is a cause of concern for many parents.
The disease is caused by enteroviruses, including Coxsackie viruses, and outbreaks typically occur in childcare settings such as crèches, day-care centres and pre-primary schools during autumn (April and May) and in the summer months. Adults can also develop the illness, but are more likely to remain asymptomatic.
How is it spread?
Infants and children under the age of ten years are at greatest risk of infection, which occurs through direct physical contact between persons. It can also be spread by children who share contaminated objects such as toys or stationery.
According to Dr Maretha Combrink, a paediatrician practising at Mediclinic Kloof, the virus is transmitted through body fluids such as saliva and nasal secretions, as well as faeces and even the fluid from erupted skin blisters which appear on HFMD-infected patients.
Serious complications from HFMD, such as viral meningitis and the loss of fingernails and toenails, are however rare.
What are the symptoms of HFMD?
The common signs and symptoms of HFMD include –
- sore throat,
- loss of appetite, and
- small blisters on the inside of the mouth, sides of the tongue, palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
Symptoms usually start appearing three to seven days after being infected.
“It’s usually a simple viral infection that clears up within seven to ten days, even without any treatment. Sick children should however avoid contact with other children for at least seven days,” according to Combrink.
How is it treated?
The infection is often mild, which means symptoms can be treated at home with over-the-counter medications to relieve fever and pain. “Hydration is also very important and children should be kept at home until the lesions have dried,” says Combrink.
There are however cases where a healthcare provider should be contacted. “These include infected babies younger than six months and children who have difficulty eating or drinking due to mouth lesions, who are at risk of dehydration.”
Children who are immunosuppressed due to other existing diseases should also be treated by a healthcare provider. “The same applies to children with severe symptoms such as many lesions covering a large area of the body or on the hands, feet, mouth, diaper area and thighs. If your child’s symptoms do not improve after seven days, consult your healthcare provider.”
Your child’s health is important to Medihelp and that is why we offer rich medical aid benefits as well as the HealthPrint Maternity and Baby programme to help you take care of them.
Medihelp offers the following benefits on ten of our products:
- Two additional visits to a GP, paediatrician or ear, nose and throat specialist for babies under two years;
- Child flu vaccinations at network pharmacy clinics; and
- The full schedule of standard child immunisations up to seven years at network pharmacy clinics.
Members can search for a network provider here .
HealthPrint is Medihelp’s free online health and wellness programme and offers members a Maternity and Baby programme which provides resources and support through videos, newsletters, articles and our HealthyInfo library. Members also have access to their health records, which they can download and share with their doctors. Click here to read more .