Is Hand Foot and Mouth Contagious?

Hand foot and mouth disease transmission

Hand-foot-mouth disease, also known as HFMD, usually affects children and infants and is a syndrome caused by intestinal viruses. Hand-foot-mouth disease is moderately contagious and usually happens in small epidemics and may be seasonal since most outbreaks happen during summer and early autumn (fall). Hand-foot-mouth disease transmission is typically common in kindergartens or nursery schools since it commonly occurs in children aged ten years and below.

Not to be confused with foot and mouth disease, also called hoof-and-mouth disease that affects animals like sheep, swine and cattle, hand-foot-mouth diseases are less common in adults, except for those with immune deficiencies. Hand-foot-mouth disease cannot be transmitted from pets to humans, only from person to person.

Just like in any common viral infection, hand-foot-mouth disease can be transmitted from person to person through direct contact. The virus is generally found in the nose or nostrils (nasal mucus), fluids in blisters, throat secretions like saliva, and feces of an infected person. Hand-foot-mouth disease can be spread when an infected person’s unwashed or un-sanitized hand touches a surface, transferring the virus and would subsequently be touched by another person. Hand-foot-mouth disease can also be transmitted airborne when one sneezes directly to another person.

Patients infected with hand-foot-mouth disease are highly contagious during the first week of infection where the virus’ potency is strongest. The hand-foot-mouth disease virus can remain in the person’s body for weeks after all symptoms are gone. Some patients with hand-foot-mouth disease may experience no symptoms at all. Therefore, even if there are no more visible signs or symptoms and patients appear well and on the mend, a once-infected person with hand-foot-mouth disease can still pass on the virus to another.

Hand-foot-mouth disease patients experience several typical signs and symptoms such as fever, headache, ear infection or ear pain, sore throat, diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue (weakening), malaise (general feeling of discomfort), oral ulcer, oral lesions and body rashes (hands, feet, mouth, inside the cheek, tongue and buttocks). Hand-foot-mouth disease also manifest through painful sores and blisters in palms of hand and soles of feet, sores and blisters on nose/nostrils, sores and blisters on buttocks (usually caused by the diarrhea) and irritability in babies and toddlers.

Hand-foot-mouth disease symptoms happen in an incubation period from three to seven days upon contact with an infected person. Those infected with hand-foot-mouth disease will experience early symptoms of headache and fever and followed by a sore throat. The other symptoms will manifest one or two days later.

If remained untreated, hand-foot-mouth disease may result to life-threatening complications such as encephalitis, or swelling of the brain that is similar to polio-like paralysis, pulmonary edema, pulmonary hemorrhage and other neurological complications. There are also some non-life-threatening hand-foot-mouth disease complications such as toenail and fingernail loss, which was reported as a complication experienced by children infected with hand-foot-mouth disease within a four-week time period. Viral or aseptic meningitis, a condition that some patients may need hospitalization for a short time, is also a possible complication.

There are two most common variant of hand-foot-mouth disease: the Coxsackie A virus and Enterovirus 71 (EV-71). The more serious of the two hand-foot-mouth disease virus strain, Enterovirus 71 (EV-71) type of hand-foot-mouth disease is notable for causing severe neurological diseases like fatal encephalitis in children, including infants and toddlers.

Coxsackie A virus, although milder, is among the most common human pathogens and is transmitted by a fecal-oral route. Complications are uncommon and nearly all hand-foot-mouth disease infected individuals recover within seven to ten days.  It also shares a similarity to poliovirus and can lead to aseptic meningitis – a condition where the layers lining the brain becomes inflamed – and upper respiratory tract diseases if this type of hand-foot-mouth disease is remained untreated.

Since 1997, there had been thousands of children reported to be infected with hand-foot-mouth disease worldwide, one of the many viral diseases that have resulted to death. There were also some teenagers and adults that were hospitalized and reported to have been infected with the hand-foot-mouth disease causing virus. In view of these outbreaks, more recent occurrences of hand-foot-mouth disease in Texas and Alabama have resulted to successful containment and no reported deaths.

Proper hygiene is the topmost important preventive measure to battle hand-foot-mouth disease transmission. Frequent washing of hands or use of hand sanitizers especially in public places can avoid contracting most of the harmful viruses present in the environment like hand-foot-mouth disease. Proper potty hygiene is also recommended. Seeking medical treatment once signs and symptoms characteristic of hand-foot-mouth disease occurs is another preventive measure to be taken.

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