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Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease – What you should know

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is having a huge outbreak all across Ontario right now. It’s running rampant through daycare children, school aged kids, and even the parents are getting it too. Here’s what you need to know, and what you can do about it.

HFM is a highly contagious viral infection that displays the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Red dots or bumps in the mouth, around the feet, hands, and other parts of the body
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness
  • Sore throat
  • Headaches

HFM spreads through two methods: ingestion, which can be done by touching infected surfaces such as toys or playground equipment, saliva, feces, and fluid from the blisters; and airborne, which can be done by coughing or sneezing.

And yes, adults can get it too; they can be carriers of the infection, as well as display some of the above listed symptoms.

The remedy? Unfortunately, there is no remedy. You can only ride it out, and treat the symptoms (such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen for headaches and fevers). The one good thing is that this is a non life-threatening illness, and it usually runs its course within 7-10 days. However, the infectious period is a couple of days before symptoms start to 3-7 days following the onset of symptoms, and the illness has been known to linger in the body for weeks after the symptoms have cleared up. So it’s best that the whole family isolates for at least a week.

What doctors are finding bizarre is how this illness is running rampant during the summer months, when an illness such as HFM usually has a higher number of cases in the fall and winter. This is because in the colder months, people are more likely to be in enclosed spaces like daycares, schools, etc. where this illness can spread faster. Click here to read a recent CBC news article that interviews some Toronto pediatricians and local parents about the sudden spike in cases.

Keep reading to learn about our experience with HFM:

We’ve been struggling with this illness this week, and to say it’s been difficult would be putting it lightly. It started with our toddler on Tuesday morning, who had a high fever for a couple of days. On Wednesday, my husband noticed our son had some red spots on the roof of his mouth. That day we took him to a walk-in clinic thinking it was strep throat. Sure enough, the doctor said it was HFM, and he was just at the beginning stages of it. In the next couple of days he would develop the red spots and blisters that is typical of HFM. Sure enough, the spots / blisters arrived shortly after that. He didn’t seem bothered by them as they weren’t itchy or irritating – it appeared to be mostly cosmetic. On Friday, our 6 month old developed a high fever (we’re talking 103.7.) We had to apply a cool cloth to his forehead and lay him on our bed with the AC going nearby just to get him comfortable. He was very docile and only wanted to snuggle in our arms. We started alternating acetaminophen and ibuprofen every 3-4 hours. We called Telehealth at 12am and were told a nurse would respond to our call in “several hours”. I was not about to bring him to the hospital because I’ve heard horror stories of major staff shortages and extreme wait times. Thankfully he was able to get a solid 6 hours of rest overnight. On Sunday the blisters really started to develop, and on Monday he is covered in blisters and a red rash all over his arms and legs. He also has woken up every hour for the past 2 nights crying out, but luckily a simple replacement of the soother has been enough to settle him down. (It’s still hard to settle ourselves down after that though… So quiet and peaceful, and suddenly “WAAAAHHHHHHHH”! Mini heart attacks over here!)

We’re hoping tonight brings a better sleep for our little guy. In the meantime, we keep having to explain to our (almost) 4 year old why he needs to wait one more day before going back to the playground.

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