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What is Hand-Foot-Mouth disease and how is it spread?
Q: My 20-month-old granddaughter lives with us and was just diagnosed with hand-foot-mouth disease. What is it, how did she get it and is it contagious? (She attends a daycare.) What should we do to clear it up, as her doctor didn't prescote anything.
A: Michele, Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease is a common childhood illness caused by coxsackievirus or other enteroviruses. Don’t confuse this with the cattle disease “hoof and mouth”—there’s no relation. Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease is usually a mild illness that is spread from one child to another. Adults can also catch it but they are usually less susceptible since they may have had the illness as children and developed immunity.

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease typically causes a mild fever followed a couple days later by sore throat, mouth sores, stomachache, and finally blisters on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. The virus spreads through the stool, so be sure to wash your hands and your granddaughter’s hands after changing her nappy or helping her use the toilet. It can also spread through saliva, so be sure that your granddaughter doesn’t share food or kiss people on the mouth. As long as your granddaughter is feeling well, health authorities say that she should be able to return to child care.

The doctor was right in not prescoting any medication because your granddaughter will likely get better on her own within 7-10 days. Since the infection is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not help. But if your granddaughter is uncomfortable with the fever or mouth sores, you can give her fever- or pain-reducing medicine such as acetaminophen. Be sure you don’t give her aspirin because it can cause a dangerous condition called Reye Syndrome.