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Start with clean hands and diapers!

It’s usually no surprise when kids come down with a cold after school, daycare or a day on the playground. But if your young child comes home with sores or a rash on their hands and feet, don’t panic! They may have a common viral infection known as hand-foot-and-mouth disease. 

“There is nothing more stressful for a parent than seeing an open sore or rash,” said Geisinger pediatrician Alana Rickard, DO. “But luckily, hand-foot-and-mouth disease is a mild virus that’s highly contagious but often heals itself, even without medication.”

Though adults can contract the mild but contagious infection, it is most commonly seen in infants and children younger than 5. Hand-foot-and-mouth is passed through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids, including saliva from coughs or sneezes, nasal secretions, feces or fluid from open sores. 

It is most commonly passed in childcare settings, as many young children are together over the course of frequent diaper changes. Plus, at this age, children are known for putting just about everything into their mouths. 

Here’s what you need to know about spotting, treating and preventing the infection. 

Signs and symptoms
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is most commonly caused by the coxsackievirus, though several other viruses can also cause the infection. It shouldn’t be confused with foot-and-mouth disease (also known as hoof-and-mouth disease), which affects many common farm animals—think cows, pigs and horses—but cannot be passed to humans. 

Symptoms of hand-foot-and-mouth disease include fever, reduced appetite, sore throat, nausea, painful sores inside the mouth and blisters on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet. These symptoms often appear in waves, beginning with a fever and sore throat, then red patches that appear 1-2 days later. 

Treatment and prevention
There is no specific treatment for hand-foot-and-mouth disease. Instead, doctors recommend over-the-counter medicine for relieving the symptoms. These usually include pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, which can help break a fever. 

“The infection will usually pass in a week, but if it lasts longer than 12 days, you should see your pediatrician,” said Dr. Rickard. “In extremely rare cases, hand-foot-and-mouth disease can be linked to aseptic meningitis and inflammation of the brain.” 

The body will create an immunity to the virus that causes hand-foot-and-mouth, but your child could experience symptoms a second time if they come into contact with the virus’s other strains. 

Hand-foot-and-mouth can be prevented with frequent hand washing, especially after changing diapers; not sharing cups or eating utensils; keeping hands away from the eyes, nose or mouth; and regularly disinfecting toys and surfaces. 

“Good hygiene and disinfecting habits are equally important for kids and parents, as adults carry the infection even when their own immune system fights it off,” said Dr. Rickard. 

Alana Rickard, DO, is a pediatrician at Geisinger Pediatrics in Scranton. To schedule an appointment, call 800-275-6401.