Apparently, it's the summer of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease -- and this pesky virus has been spreading across the U.S. like wildfire. From painful sores in the mouth to a scary looking rash, find out what causes this illness and how to help your little one feel better.

What is it?

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD) is a fairly common viral illness in children less than 5 years old. It's most common in the summer and fall, but can potentially be seen any time of year.

What are the symptoms?

Children with HFMD present a fever, irritability, an increase in drooling and refusal to eat.

Children with HFMD present with a fever, irritability, an increase in drooling and refusal to eat. On inspection, you will notice blisters/sores in the mouth and at the back of the throat. Blisters that resemble chicken pox soon pop up on palms of hands, soles of feet, and with this recent strain, around the mouth, on the buttocks and spreading up the legs of children.

It hurts, and children will refuse to eat, cry more, and some may refuse to walk due to the painful blisters on the bottoms of their feet.

Why is this summer so much worse?

The CDC has identified a new viral strain (Coxsackie A6 vs. A16) which is likely responsible for the more severe and widespread infections. Typically, with a known virus, immunity builds among the population. Outbreaks are less and symptoms less severe.

What this means for parents and children is that if you do get it, you're likely to get it all. The fever, the sores in the mouth, and the blistery rash on the hands/feet/buttocks/legs. For parents, this means you're more likely to come down with it too!

What can I do for my child?

Treatment is aimed at pain control, hydration and education about the expectant course of the illness. Give your little one the appropriate dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain. Offer frequent amounts of cold liquids. Even if it's only sips, offer throughout the day to prevent dehydration.

Popsicles and ice-cold water are wonderful for this. So are Pedialyte pops. Avoid salty or citrus foods, as this could exacerbate the mouth pain with those open sores.

What can we expect?

Expect that the first three days will be the worst. Focus on hydration, hydration, hydration.

Expect that the first three days will be the worst. Focus on hydration, hydration, hydration. If your child has decreased saliva, decreased tears, and/or decreased urine output, take him in to be seen by a doctor right away.

The rash will take a couple of weeks to resolve and may end with peeling of the skin. This new strain of HFMD has been associated with fingernails and toenails shedding -- following the resolution of this illness.

How can I prevent it from spreading?

Hand washing and sanitizing common play spaces remain your best defense. Wash before eating, after changing diapers and after playing with community toys.

A child with HFMD should be kept home while febrile and while she still has visible blisters on her skin and/or in her mouth. Still, this virulent illness spreads quite easily in respiratory secretions from saliva, coughing and sneezing. It can even be spread via the fecal-oral route -- hence why it's so important to thoroughly wash your hands after a diaper change.

Dr. Mom's Bottom Line^ Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease is making its way across the U.S. Practice good hand washing and know that if your child does get it, your most important job is to ease the pain and keep her well hydrated.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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