Infectious Diseases

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Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease (HFMD)

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What is HFMD?

Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is a viral infection that most often infects young children, but can occur at any age.

How is it spread?

HFMD spreads from person to person through direct or indirect contact with the virus present in an infected person’s saliva, nose and throat secretions, blister fluid, and stool matter. Unwashed hands or contaminated surfaces/toys contribute to spread of HFMD. Infected persons are most contagious during their first week of illness, but may continue to potentially spread the virus for weeks after their symptoms have gone away. There is currently no evidence that shows pregnant women or their unborn child are at increased risk if they are exposed to or infected with HFMD. Mothers infected during delivery may spread the virus to the newborn, particularly if they are symptomatic. Usually the newborn would only have mild illness, but in rare cases may develop more serious complications.

What symptoms should I watch for?

If you have HFMD you may experience fever, headache, sore throat and mouth, poor appetite, and feel generally unwell. Some people develop sores in their mouth, 1-2 days after fever onset, usually located on the tongue, gums, and inside of the cheeks. These sores usually begin as small red spots that blister. Some people develop a non-itchy skin rash – usually on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, or elsewhere on the body. The skin rash may be flat or raised red spots that sometimes blister.

The illness usually lasts 7 to 10 days.

How is HFMD diagnosed?

Throat swabs or stool samples can be taken to help identify if you are infected with HFMD. However, because it takes a long time (2-4 weeks) to get test results back most healthcare providers do not order these tests. Your doctor may be able to determine if you have HFMD by seeing the mouth sores or skin rash and by taking into consideration your age and other symptoms.

What is the treatment for HFMD?

There is no specific treatment for HFMD. Because it is a virus, antibiotics do not help. Your doctor may provide supportive therapy for relief of pain caused by mouth sores and from fever and aches.

How do I protect myself and others?

Good hygiene practices can help lower your risk of infection.

  • Wash your hands frequently, especially after using the toilet, before preparing or eating meals, and after changing diapers.
  • Always clean with soap and water and then disinfect contaminated surfaces, commonly touched items and shared toys with an appropriate disinfectant.
  • If you have or know someone who has HFMD avoid kissing, hugging, sharing cups or utensils to limit the chance of spread.

What about HFMD in the child care setting?

Children with HFMD may continue to attend child care as long as they are well enough to participate in programming and activities. Exclusion of ill children may not prevent additional cases because the virus remains in the body for weeks after the infected person’s symptoms have gone away. Frequent hand washing and cleaning/disinfecting contaminated items and surfaces will assist in limiting spread throughout the child care centre.

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