UNC Health warns hand, foot and mouth disease spreading this summer

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Thursday, June 15, 2023
UNC Health warns hand, foot and mouth disease spreading this summer
With summer fun at the forefront of families' minds, so is keeping germs away from kids.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- UNC Health warned it is expecting to see more hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) this summer in central North Carolina.

With summer fun at the forefront of families' minds, so is keeping germs away from kids.

"It can be a hassle, especially with the little ones, 2-year-olds, because they're constantly putting their hands in their mouth," Shaaya Yeager said while pushing her granddaughter on the swing at Northgate Park on Thursday.

UNC Health experts said the virus that causes HFMD typically circulates more during the summer months.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the disease is common in children under 5 years old, but anyone can get it.

"Just had these sores broke out in her mouth," Tez said about her niece. "She had gotten fever, there was a rash. She was really young so she was very irritable."

Heather Fisher said with her son, the first sign was a diaper rash before he had sores on his hands and feet.

The good news is that the illness is usually not serious and most people with the disease get better on their own in 7 to 10 days, according to the CDC.

"I think it can be kind of scary when you see it at first, but I think generally it's just a wait it out and as long as they're not super uncomfortable, it'll get better," Fisher said.

There's no specific medical treatment for HFMD but you can treat symptoms, including taking over-the-counter medications to relieve fever and pain caused by mouth sores and drinking enough liquids.

What is hand, foot and mouth disease?

HMFD is a common viral illness caused by different strains of coxsackievirus. It occurs mostly during the summer and early autumn and it is a short-term infection that occurs most frequently in children younger than 5 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How do people get sick?

Outbreaks of HFMD can occur in daycare centers, schools, or summer camps -- wherever people gather.

One way it's passed is like the flu -- through the air. A person may get it if they're talking with someone who is sick with the disease and coughs or sneezes without covering their mouth.

It's also transmitted by coming into close contact with someone who hasn't washed their hands after using the bathroom.

What are the signs of an infection?

Symptoms typically start within three to five days of being in contact with someone who was sick.

The first signs usually are high fever, decreased appetite, sore throat, and an overall feeling of being tired and unwell.

Typically a few days after the fever, painful blisters can be seen in the mouth. This is called herpangina if it's the only symptom, which can be the case for some small children.

At the same time, a skin rash can appear on the hands and feet, and sometimes even the buttocks in young children. The rash often looks like bright red dots, sometimes with clear blisters, which are contagious, and can be painful.

How do doctors treat it?

There's no way to attack the virus itself. The most important thing is hydration and pain control with over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen that both work equally well.

The mouth sores can be very painful, and aside from popsicles and ice cream to soothe the throat, "magic mouthwash" can help, too, for both children over 4 years old and adults.

The magic mouthwash is a mix of a half teaspoon antacid liquid -- like Maalox or Mylanta -- with a half teaspoon diphenhydramine (that's the drug found in Benadryl). After mixing both together, swish the solution around in the mouth and then spit it out.

Adults can also use oral anesthetic sprays that help with pain by numbing the mouth and throat.

If the rash lasts longer than two weeks, or if there's only a rash on one side of the body, it may be another medical condition, so see a doctor.

How can someone avoid getting sick?

With these common viruses, good hand hygiene is always important.

Remind children to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds. Adults should take that advice as well, especially after using the restroom or changing diapers.

Avoid sharing utensils or drinks with someone who is sick.

Hand, foot, and mouth will typically go away in a few days; which is good news for mom Pink, who still has 12 more tour dates in Australia.