Call for calm on hand, foot and mouth disease incidents

A leading emergency doctor has given general advice about the highly contagious hand, foot and mouth disease which has been reported in schools in Australia.

While the condition is highly contagious, Dr Nigel Beck said the key message was the name tended to spark worry for what was mostly fairly benign.

Hand, foot and mouth disease is not notifiable to the health department. It is also confused to the unrelated foot and mouth disease, which infects animals.

Dr Beck, who is Ballarat Health Services Base Hospital emergency department deputy director, said part of the challenge was children were often not particularly sick, more in discomfort, and it was best to see a general practitioner for treatment.

“Because there is no immunisation schedule for hand, foot and mouth, this is one of the few remaining ones that tends to cause outbreaks,” Dr Beck said. 

“One of the unusual things is that because the rash forms early in the virus, and it’s very specific where it forms, naming it hand, foot and mouth disease helps doctors remember and quickly identify it, rather than using the medical term.”

Hand, foot and mouth disease tends to spread among children aged under five. 

There is no set quarantine period for affected children, or their families, but Dr Beck said like other viral diseases, children should be kept home until blisters have dried.

The lesions are predominantly found on the soles of feet, in palms and inside the mouth. Fluid in the blisters is infectious, as is other bodily fluids.

Most incidents of the disease are in summer and autumn, according to the Victorian Health Department, with an incubation period of three to seven days. Symptoms can persist for up to 10 days.

Tips to prevent spreading hand, foot and mouth disease

  • Exclusion from school/child care until all blisters have dried
  • covering lesions on hands and feet, if possible, and allowing them to dry naturally
  • Avoiding piercing lesions, as the fluid within the blisters is infectious
  • Good handwashing, and cleaning and disposal of soiled articles
  • Avoiding close contact or sharing eating and drinking utensils
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