Hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD) affects around 200,000 Americans every year. According to the West Central Health District in Georgia, they believe this season could be a recording-breaking year for HFMD. By mid-November, the University of Maryland has reported 14 cases of HFMD. Earlier this year, there was an outbreak (closer to home) at Florida State University where more than a dozen cases were reported. Although the disease most commonly affects children, it can affect adults. What exactly is HFMD?
HFMD is a highly contagious enterovirus of the Coxsackie family that infects the intestines. Some infections from this virus result in mild symptoms and lasts around a week or less. It is spread by close contact with another person through such activities like sharing a drinking glass, kissing, shaking hands; it is spread from the saliva or mucus. HFMD usually emerges late summer or early fall when enteroviruses are known to spread easily.
A person with HFMD is contagious before he or she exhibits symptoms. On average, the virus has a three- to five-day incubation period. Some people also have the virus but never get ill from it, but can still spread the illness. A person who has symptoms is still able to spread the virus even after his or her symptoms disappear. A doctor doesn’t usually need to do any testing to determine if a person has this virus or not.
Symptoms of HFMD include: flu-like symptoms (fever, sore throat), and itchy, red spots (sores or rash) on hands, feet, and mouth (can spread to legs and genitals). These spots can turn into blisters on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet; in some cases, people find blisters on their knees, elbows, buttocks, and genitals. In some cases, HFMD can lead to serious conditions like meningitis and encephalitis.
Treatment for HFMD includes: plenty of fluids, plenty of rest, topical oral anesthetic for mouth sores, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen. Symptoms should clear up in seven to 10 days.
Although outbreaks usually occur in confined places like colleges and schools, the virus can easily be spread in other scenarios through something as simple as coughing or sneezing.
To avoid getting HFMD, it is important to always wash your hands, and clean common spaces (living room, kitchen, bathroom) and devices (doorknobs, computers, tables) often and thoroughly. Overall, be vigilant with your personal hygiene practices to avoid contracting the virus.
Dr. Kordonowy of Internal Medicine, Lipid & Wellness of Fort Myers is a board certified internal medicine and lipidology physician. To book an appoint, click here or call 239-362-3005, ext. 200.