Hand, foot and mouth disease occurs primarily during the summer and fall months and is caused by a type of Enterovirus. Enteroviruses are a group of viruses that cause a large variety of rashes and infections. As a matter of fact, during the summer and fall months these viruses are the most common cause of viral rashes in children. It is also interesting that the younger a child, the more likely she will develop a rash as a result of infection from these viruses. Older individuals may get the infection, but their symptoms are less severe and non-specific – just a bit of fever or a bit of diarrhea.
Among the group of enteroviruses are various specific viruses including the Coxsackievirus and Echovirus. Each group has different sub-types which are classified based on a number. For example, the Coxsackievirus A16 strain is the major cause of hand, foot and mouth disease.
What are the symptoms of hand foot mouth disease?
Typically, there are small lesions or spots in the mouth, mostly on the tongue, and inside the front part of the inside of the mouth known as the buccal mucosa. Additionally, a rash develops on the hands as well as the feet and is described as vesicular, looking like it has a bit of fluid in its centre.
There can be fever and other symptoms too, including abdominal pain, vomiting and/or diarrhea. The diagnosis is usually easy to make, due to the very characteristic location of the rash and the summer/fall seasonal preference of the infection. The infection can last for up to one week and usually goes away on its own without any specific treatment. The viruses spread from one person to another by contact, for example with the hands of an infected person. So prevention is best practiced by washing hands thoroughly when in contact with a person infected with this or any other enteroviral infection. Once a person has come into contact with the virus, it takes about four to six days for the infection to show itself (this is called the incubation period).
Some Enteroviruses can cause an infection with or without a rash. For example, Echovirus type 9 causes a total body rash and fever. Other Enteroviruses can cause a variety of symptoms including: isolated fever, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea. Often there are outbreaks of these types of infections in summer sleep-away camps or day camps. Again, these infections go away on their own without any specific treatment. It is important to make sure that a child who is vomiting and/or has diarrhea does not become dehydrated by ensuring that he keeps drinking the appropriate fluids.
Aseptic or viral meningitis can also be caused by certain Enteroviruses. This type of meningitis again occurs mostly during the summer and resolves on its own. Fortunately, contrary to bacterial meningitis, viral meningitis usually have no complications or consequences.
Pediatrician DR.PAUL Roumeliotis is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The information provided above is designed to be an educational aid only. It is not intended to replace the advice and care of your child’s physician, nor is it intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. If you suspect that your child has a medical condition always consult a physician.