Hand foot and mouth disease – the essentials.

Dr Antje Theilhaber

Dr Antje Theilhaber

By Dr Antje Theilhaber, FRACGP

After seeing so many kids today with hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD), I thought I’d summarise the essentials for all you parents and caregivers out there.

Given that HFMD is a highly contagious illness that is spread easily from one sick child to the next, many of you may not only be having the joy of finding Easter eggs this weekend but also a mildly sick, clingy child with HFMD.

Children with HFMD can present just a bit unwell, starting to refuse eating solids. A few days later you may suddenly find 1-2 spots on their face or hands. They might have a fever as well, and you may wonder what is happening. The next day multiple tiny red blisters appear on their hands, feet and mouth – and by then things are usually pretty obvious.

HFMD is a benign viral illness, so your child’s immune system will just fight it off on its own. Regular pain relief may help, such as Panadol or Nurofen, so that they feel comfortable to drink and keep their fluids up. Avoid food with lots of acid like strawberries or oranges, as they may burn in the mouth and the kids are then more likely than to avoid any other foods you offer.

Think what you’d eat if you were a child and you’re pretty much on the right track: jelly, custard or frozen yogurt can be very helpful to entice kids to take in some fluids and energy. Their favourite icy pole is another hot (or cold) tip, if you are struggling to convince your youngster to drink. (Hydrolyte and other specially made rehydration icy poles are very high in salt and the flavour is not something many kids would take to. And you rarely need these special fluids for a mildly unwell child.

Obviously they will need lots of cuddles. Your kids might do quite well during the day when there is lots of distraction around.  But come night time, when the kids are quiet in their beds and everything is silent, they often realise how uncomfortable they are and can become more unsettled. Giving some pain medication for 2-4 nights before bedtime is often helpful. When using children’s pain medicine please make sure to only use the recommended dose for your child’s weight.

Sometimes little babies refuse to feed because of the blisters and they then need be looked after in hospital. Kids with eczema can also have more issues. Another good reminder, that it is so important to be on top of your kids’ eczema. This prevents complications like skin infections. This is another hot topic I love to educate about, will do that next time.

When your child’s blisters have all dried up they are no longer contagious and can return to day care and kinder. HFMD does not cause any issues for pregnant women.

So if your child gets some blisters on their hands, feet and mouth, make sure to give them regular pain relief if needed and keep their fluids up. As always: should you have any concerns please seek medical help.

More information: https://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Hand_foot_and_mouth_disease_coxsackie_virus/

Hope you and your loved ones enjoy the long weekend!

Dr. Antje Theilhaber