8.MAR.2017 5 MIN READ | 5 MIN READ

Hand, food and mouth disease (HFMD) is a common but painful illness among children.

While most of us recognise sores or rashes on the mouth, hands, feet or buttocks as symptoms of the disease, our knowledge rarely extends beyond that. Here are some common questions answered by Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease specialist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.

What causes HFMD?

HFMD is caused by enteroviruses, a large family of common viruses responsible for many infections in people, especially young children and families with young children. HFMD usually lasts less than a week. In serious cases, infections in the brain, lungs or heart may occur.

What are some symptoms?

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Rashes on the mouth, hands, feet or buttocks
  • Ulcers in the throat, tongue and mouth
  • Lethargy
  • Poor appetite

Are there any vaccines available?

No vaccines are available in Singapore. In China, however, there is a HFMD vaccine licensed in 2015 for a deadly HFMD strain, EV71. It is unknown if this vaccine is effective against other strains of HFMD.

Are there ways to protect my child against HFMD?

HFMD is very contagious, so be sure to keep your child away from those infected with HFMD.

You can lower the risk of getting infected with these habits:

  • Wash hands with soap and water before and after eating, and after toilet breaks
  • Avoid sharing food, drinks, utensils, towels and toothbrushes with others
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Disinfect toys and frequently touched surfaces

If possible, try to isolate the infected individual from the rest of the family. Those who catch the disease from family members are likely to come down with a more severe illness and experience it worse.

I heard that people can heal naturally without treatment, is that true?

Yes, because the body can develop immunity after being infected with the disease. However, there is a lag time between acquiring the disease and gaining complete immunity. During this period, the patient will suffer the symptoms.

What kind of treatments are available for HFMD?

Being sufficiently hydrated is key to recovery. If the patient is unable to drink water, the doctor may help hydrate the patient intravenously. Soothing lotions and fever medicine can also help to alleviate the symptoms. To check if the patient is well-hydrated, look out for the colour of their urine. Clear urine or urine with only a slight tinge of yellow is a sign that the patient is adequately hydrated.

How long will it take before my child can return to school?

It can take 1 – 2 weeks before your child can return to school. Generally, they can return to school when there is no more blistering and they have recovered from the symptoms.

How can I soothe the painful symptoms while recovering?

Taking sweetened iced drinks or popsicles can help alleviate the pain caused by mouth ulcers and keep hydrated at the same time. Painkillers like paracetamol, ibuprofen, etoricoxib or celecoxib are also easily available and safe for use.

How can I help to speed up my child’s recovery?

The key to recovering well and fast is adequate fluid and rest. Although the ulcers in the mouth hurt, drinking lots of water remains essential. To speed up recovery, make sure to get plenty of rest and stay well-hydrated.

Leong Hoe Nam
Infectious Disease Specialist
Mount Elizabeth Hospital

Dr Leong Hoe Nam is an infectious disease specialist practising at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, Singapore. His clinical interest is in the treatment of complex infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV and surgical complications, especially for transplant patients and patients with multi-drug resistant organisms.