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What to Expect When Your Kids Have Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

Photograph by Twenty20

The dreaded email came from preschool on a Friday: “We have one reported case of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease.” By Saturday, my 5-year-old had a fever, sore throat and headache, plus a serious case of the grumps, since I’d had to cancel her playdate. I hoped that despite the warning from school, my daughter simply had a coincidental cold.

The next day, she seemed to have recovered, but it was a trick—the eye of the storm. That night, red sores like polka dots broke out, most noticeably on her hands and feet. My kid described the sores as itchy and painful, and nothing helped—not lotion, an oatmeal bath or even the hairbrush I offered out of desperation so she could scratch her feet in bed. We didn’t get her to sleep until 3:30 a.m.

“Classic case of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease,” my pediatrician proclaimed. She showed me additional sores in my daughter’s mouth, and even a few on her bottom. “They really should call it Hand, Foot, Mouth and Butt,” said our doctor. Did I mention she was funny?

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If you’re like me, you might have thought Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease was something livestock gets, but apparently it’s a common viral infection that occurs most often in children under 10. The bad news is that it’s highly contagious, so if you have multiple children, they will probably all get it. Our doc told me to watch for drooling and what looks like a bad diaper rash on my 1-year-old baby. By the next day, she had both.

The good news is that HFMD is not serious, just uncomfortable.

The good news is that HFMD is not serious, just uncomfortable. My baby didn’t seem as itchy as her sister, but I could tell the sores in her mouth bothered her. Her appetite decreased and she temporarily lost interest in nursing, which made her hard to calm when she woke up all night long. I gave the baby infant ibuprofen to ease her mouth pain, and offered cold drinks. For my 5-year-old, the doctor recommended liquid children’s Benadryl, which was the only thing that curbed the itching. Unfortunately, according to the grouchy patient, “It tastes like garbage.”

Luckily, once someone has had Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease, they develop an immunity to it and won’t get it again. So if your kids get HFMD, you probably won’t catch it, because you likely already had it in childhood. Personally, I feel like I would remember having been decorated with angry polka dots as a kid, but the conventional wisdom must be true, because I didn’t get sick after tending to my not-very-hygenic kids, and neither did my husband.

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Although the illness lasts 7-10 days, kids are only contagious until 24 hours after the fever is gone. That meant I could send my 5-year-old back to school fairly quickly and start napping when the baby napped instead of turning to amphetamines, which was starting to seem like a good idea. I think having two kids alternate being up all night, night after night, is the parental equivalent of torture. I would have confessed to selling state secrets just to close my eyes for five minutes.

Friends have told me that after preschool, kids get sick a lot less, and I’m looking forward to that. But I’ve also heard to expect another kind of notice from school: “We have a reported case of lice..."

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