Medical Q&As

Hand, foot and mouth disease - serious?

I'm writing this on behalf of my sister-in-law who does not have a PC. My niece was unwell last week sleeping a lot but not complaining. We brought her to the GP who said she had the human form of foot and mouth disease, as there were lesions on her tongue hands and legs. He sent her to the hospital for assessment and they sent her home. What we really are wondering is, is it contagious as there are other children in the family, and what medication if any can we get her? She is only 2 years old.

You indicate in your query that your young niece had lesions in her mouth, hands and legs, which indicates that she has hand, foot and mouth disease and not foot and mouth disease. Although the names are similar they are separate diseases and are caused by different viruses. Neither of these diseases is of any great seriousness in humans and they both resolve spontaneously without the need for prescription drugs. Foot and mouth disease is primarily a viral infection of cloven-hoofed animals, which includes cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and deer. Humans become infected with foot and mouth disease following close contact with an animal that is infected. The virus enters the body through inhalation, drinking unpasteurised milk or it can enter though a cut in the skin. Since the island of Ireland is now disease free with regard to foot and mouth disease there is no risk of humans acquiring that infection. However, hand foot and mouth disease is a relatively common childhood illness and is usually caused by coxsackievirus, which is a completely different species of virus to the one causing foot and mouth disease. Hand, foot and mouth disease is contagious and can be spread by droplet infection just like the common cold. It can also be transmitted in the stools of the infected person. It is not transmitted to or from animals or household pets. Antibiotics are ineffective against the coxsackievirus although they may occasionally be prescribed if mouth or skin lesions become secondarily infected with bacteria. Your niece’s young age is not a cause of concern since this is the usual age at which the infection is acquired. Treatment simply consists of symptom relief, such as paracetamol for pain and temperature control and also ensuring that the child drinks sufficient liquids. I would anticipate that your niece’s illness would resolve shortly without any persisting complaints or complications.