As summer arrives in Hong Kong, so too does a new wave of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD). This common childhood disease is most prevalent in Hong Kong from May to July, and October to December.
We spoke to pediatrician Dr. June Chan 陳善珩醫生 about what to look out for during HFMD season and how to provide relief to our little ones.
Signs and symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease
HFMD disease is usually not a serious illness but it does make children pretty miserable for a few days. A small proportion of children can develop more severe illness. It causes fever, a sore throat, sores or blisters in the mouth, low appetite, irritability and a rash that may appear on hands, feet, face and/or buttocks. The rash typically appears as flat red dots, sometime with blisters. HFMD generally presents very mildly in adults, but they can still pass on the disease.
Relief of hand, foot and mouth disease symptoms
HFMD makes children pretty miserable due to their fever and mouth ulcers. To keep them comfortable, you can provide an appropriate dosage of children’s fever medication (i.e. paracetamol, acetaminophen, ibuprofen) to prevent their fever from spiking. To ensure your child is taking in adequate fluids and food, it’s helpful to provide cold options. Anything frozen (frozen breastmilk or formula if they’re not yet on solids, frozen fruit, a cold smoothie, etc.) will help relieve their mouth pain and encourage them to take in some calories.
Some young children may not be able to take in enough fluids because of the sore in the mouth, you should contact your doctor in these cases.
Infectious and incubation periods of hand, foot and mouth disease
The incubation period refers to the time between catching the virus and symptoms developing. The incubation period for HFMD is 3-7 days. The disease is most contagious during the first week of the illness and the viruses can be found in stool for weeks. Sick children should stay away from school or gatherings till all mouth sores have dried up and rash has disappeared.
Prevention and control of hand, foot and mouth disease
The HFMD virus is particularly contagious and spreads very easily as it can live for several hours outside the body and is spread through saliva, mucus and stool. A few ways to help stop the spread of HFMD are:
- Disinfecting shared toys can help prevent spread;
- Cover nose and mouth when sneezing; and
- Wash hands after handling body secretions.
When should you see a doctor with hand, foot and mouth disease?
Seek prompt medical attention if your child has a persistent high fever, decrease in alertness or poor oral intake.