Hoof and mouth disease is a viral illness that primarily effects infants and children. The true name of the condition is hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD), but it is commonly referred to as hoof and mouth disease, which is a disease that only affects farm animals. The two conditions are not related.
The symptoms of HFMD typically begin with loss of appetite, fever, sore throat, headache, fatigue and irritability in very young children. After a day or two sores, beginning as small red spots, develop in the child's mouth, on his gums, tongue and the insides of his cheeks. These sores blister and frequently become ulcers. A rash also forms on the palms of his hands and on the soles of his feet. This rash, which is not itchy, may also appear on his buttocks or genitals.
HFMD is caused by a virus in the group of enteroviruses that includes coxsackieviruses, echoviruses, polioviruses and enteroviruses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most frequent cause of HFMD is coxsackievirus A16. Enterovirus 71 has also been known to cause outbreaks. HFMD is a contagious disease that spreads by direct contact with an infected individual. The virus is in secretions from the nose and throat as well from saliva, stool and fluids from blisters.
The disease is most common among children under the age of 10, but occasionally adults may also be infected. The reason children are more susceptible is that they have not yet developed antibodies to protect them from exposure. Once infected, they develop an immunity to the specific virus that caused it, but it is possible to be infected again by another virus within the enterovirus group. HFMD cannot be transferred to or from pets or other animals.
Usually a doctor can identify HFMD by examining the rash and sores, and considering the symptoms and the age of the patient. Your doctor may send out samples from the child's stool or her throat to determine the virus that caused the disease. Since the results for this test can take between two to four weeks many physicians do not use it.
There is no treatment for HFMD, but you can treat the symptoms of pain, aches and fever. Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen are helpful to relieve pain and reduce fever. Numbing sprays and mouthwashes may also be used to relieve mouth pain. Popsicles, ice cream, sherbet, ice chips and ice water are less painful on the sores. It is important that the patient drink plenty of fluids to remain hydrated. If severe dehydration occurs it may be necessary to administer intravenous fluids.
Preventive measures include frequent hand washing, particularly after using the bathroom or changing diapers; cleaning and disinfecting surface and toys; and avoiding contact (hugging and kissing, sharing glasses and utensils) with an infected individual. A solution of 1/4 cup bleach added to a gallon of water is sufficient for disinfecting.
Complications are rare, but can include aseptic meningitis (fever, stiff neck, headache and back pain), encephalitis (a potentially fatal condition in which the brain swells) or paralysis (similar to polio).
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