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What is Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?

The virus (actually a group of viruses) - commonly known as hand, foot, and mouth disease - usually strikes children between the ages of two and six, but babies are susceptible, too. It's moderately contagious and is transmitted through coughing and sneezing. Not surprisingly, outbreaks are common in nurseries, playgroups and parks. The virus is also spread through faeces, so hygiene at home is very important. Chances of an outbreak are higher in the summer months and the months after monsoon.

Although the condition is uncomfortable, it's not at all serious. Unfortunately, a child is most contagious in the week before symptoms appear, so it can be hard to anticipate or prevent. Typically, the incubation period is three to seven days.

How will I know if my Baby has it?

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A baby or child with hand, foot, and mouth disease will clearly not feel well. It usually begins with a mild fever. The telltale signs of the virus are small, blister-like sores that appear in the mouth on the tongue, gums and cheek, and rashes on the palms of the hands, fingers and soles of the feet. Your child may also have a sore throat and appear listless. The blisters can be extremely sore; in fact, a baby may not want to breastfeed or eat because of the ones in his mouth.

Who gets hand-foot-mouth disease?

This disease is most common among young children but is seen with some frequency up until puberty. Adults can get it, but this is much less common. Once people have had coxsackievirus A16 they are generally immune, but they could get another case of hand-foot-mouth disease from one of the other, less common viruses. Most infections occur in the summer or early fall, with the peak between August and October in the northern hemisphere.

How can I best care for my baby while he's ill with this Virus?

Although you may just have to wait out the seven to 14 days it typically takes for the virus to subside, you can make your baby more comfortable

  • Give him paracetamol suspension after consulting your paediatrician.
  • Avoid dehydration; keep offering breastmilk or formula.
  • Offer water and diluted fresh juices to an older baby. Some children may not prefer juice as the acidity can irritate the blisters. You can give them cold milk shakes and curd instead as they may be easier to swallow. A toddler may also enjoy an ice-lolly, which will provide fluids and soothe the sores.
  • Give your child warm salt-water gargles to soothe the blisters. Do it yourself and chances are that your toddler will be happy to copy.
  • Avoid popping the blisters – if left alone, they'll disappear on their own in a few days.
  • Wash your hands frequently, and wear rubber gloves if you need to change nappies as the virus is transmitted through stools.

Should I call the Paediatrician?

You'll probably want to, even though she won't be able to do much. However, if the fever gets higher than 103 degrees F, or doesn't subside after four to five days, your paediatrician should check for a secondary infection. And be alert for signs of dehydration. Sometimes a baby may refuse to swallow because it hurts too much. So if your baby won't eat or drink and hasn't had a wet nappy in more than six to eight hours, call the paediatrician immediately.


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