2016-08-18 / Front Page

Hand, foot, and mouth virus causing painful sores among school children

The seasonal increase in hand, foot, and mouth disease among Washington-Wilkes children is in full swing right now, and the Wilkes County Health Department is offering practical advice to parents for treating the common Coxsackie virus and minimizing its spread.

“We’re seeing it a lot in day care, in younger kids,” said Jennifer Walker, administrator of the health department, “because it’s spread through fecal, oral, and respiratory contact, and little kids are always putting things in their mouths. But now, with school back in session, we may see it in older kids.”

At Washington-Wilkes Primary School, the infection really hasn’t had an impact, Principal Janet Pharr said. “We have one student who goes to a day care in town that had it, but it started showing up over a weekend. He went to the doctor though, and hasn’t been here at school with it, but we went ahead and sent letters home with every child in his classroom so they would know. He’s back in school now.”

Working with the day-care providers has helped the schools avoid problems with the virus. “When the day cares start, they always have an outbreak, but we always check to see if we have any siblings of those children at the day care. The day-care providers are really good about calling us to say, ‘we’ve got three out with hand, foot, and mouth’ and they know if one of our children comes to their day care, and they know who the siblings are. So typically, we don’t have a problem with it.”

The infection isn’t serious, but it can be very painful. “It’s terribly painful,” Walker said. “If they get blisters on the bottoms of their feet, they can barely walk. It’s a pretty nasty virus.”

Unfortunately, there is very little parents can do to prevent the spread of the virus. “The thing about it is that it’s most contagious one to two weeks before the infection actually shows up and the child gets sick. The main thing, especially in the day care centers, is proper disinfection and hand-washing, that they’re cleaning their changing tables and other surfaces, and making sure they’re disinfecting their toys at the end of every day, and making sure kids don’t put things in their mouths. And again, hand-washing.”

But even those precautions are largely too late to prevent the spread. “By the time kids break out in the rash and the fever starts, they’ve already exposed everybody around them.”

Children may return to school after a hand, foot, and mouth infection only after 24 hours without fever, Walker said. “And that’s 24 hours without fever without medicine – a lot of times parents will dose them up to make the fever go away and send them in. It’s not the blisters, it’s the fever part that we watch for.”

Despite the surge of photos on Facebook right now, Walker said, “It’s nothing new, it’s been around. Social media has gotten folks panicking, but it’s been around and we always see more at the start of school.”

The odd name of the virus comes from the Hudson River town where it was first discovered in the 1940s, Coxsackie, New York. Hand, foot, and mouth disease is completely unrelated to hoof and mouth disease that exclusively affects livestock.

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