Parents, take note. If you see spots on your child’s hands or face, you’ll want to get them to the doctor immediately. It could be hand-foot-and-mouth disease, a common viral illness that affects about 200,000 people in the U.S. ever year and can definitely be a cause for concern. The West General Health District in Georgia has warned that this could be a record-breaking year for the disease.
While hand-foot-and-mouth disease is common, it’s also very contagious, spreading from contact with saliva or mucus, which makes it fairly easy to get from a kiss, handshake or sneeze. It is mainly prevalent in school aged and college kids, with smaller children more likely to spread it around unknowingly. Those with lower immune systems, such as overtired college students or senior citizens, are also more likely to contract it.
In a public notice, the West Central Health District organization notes: “The illness is typically mild, and nearly all people recover in 7 to 10 days without medical treatment. HFMD is caused by several different viruses and it’s possible that people can get the disease again. In rare cases, further complications can occur.”
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease will appear as itchy red spots on the hands, feet, and/or mouth and the symptoms aren’t terribly intense, but those with weakened immune systems may face additional concerns. In rare cases, the disease may lead to serious brain infections, like meningitis and encephalitis.
Other symptoms include a reduced appetite, fever, and sore throat, which accompanies the rash of flat red spots that may blister, and/or painful mouth sores that may begin as flat red spots.
There is no quick treatment for hand-foot-and-mouth disease, but if your child has these spots, you should definitely seek medical advice. If that’s the diagnosis, your child will not be able to return to school until the virus has run its course.
The CDC notes that while outbreaks of hand-foot-and-mouth disease aren’t common, this large outbreak in Georgia could see the disease spreading more than it has in the past.
As with any contagious virus, the best way to prevent contracting it is to be vigilant about washing your hands often, especially after using the bathroom or helping children use the bathroom, and before touching food, as well as avoiding sharing drinks, straws, utensils, and food. Areas frequently touched should be disinfected if someone in your household is sick to prevent the spread of the illness to other family members. If your child has hand-foot-and-mouth disease, they will have to stay home from school until the doctor gives them clearance to return.
The West Central Health District further advises: “People with HFMD are most contagious during the first week of their illness. However, they may sometimes remain contagious for weeks after symptoms go away. Some people, especially adults, may not develop any symptoms, but they can still spread the viruses to others. This is why you should always maintain good hygiene, like washing hands often with soap and water and covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing. These actions will minimize your chance of getting and spreading infections.”