Hand-foot-mouth disease not serious

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An outbreak of hand-foot-mouth disease at Cottonwood Valley Charter School on Neel Street has had several children staying home with a mild fever and a rash affecting their mouths, hands and feet, according to CVCS Administrative Assistant Jill Urban.

Parkview school nurse Jan Tarr said she has not seen any cases at her school yet.

Hand-foot-mouth disease is a common and generally mild viral infection among children that is self-limiting, which means it normally does not cause complications, said New Mexico State Medical Epidemiologist Chad Smelser, M.D., in a telephone interview.

"We take it seriously because we want to educate schools about prevention," he said. "But it is not a notifiable condition. It is a totally different disease from vesicular stomatitis and hoof-and-mouth disease. Hand-foot-mouth disease is not transmitted to or from pets or other animals."

Vesicular stomatitis is also a normally mild disease with similar symptoms affecting hoofed animals and occasionally humans; hoof-and-mouth disease has symptoms like vesicular stomatitis, but can be fatal, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture fact sheet.

The Centers for Disease Control and the New Mexico Department of Health do not consider hand-foot-mouth disease to be serious enough to warrant posting case numbers on their websites, Smelser said.

Hand-foot-mouth disease usually starts with a sore throat, a mild fever, a rash that shows up on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet, and sores in the mouth, according to the Centers for Disease Control website.

The symptoms are uncomfortable, but not life threatening.

"Little guys get blisters in their mouths and on their hands and feet," said CVCS school nurse Sally Lopeman. "It's uncomfortable rather than dangerous. It acts like a flu with a fever. They can eat soft foods like ice cream."

Rigorous hand washing and regular disinfecting of surfaces will minimize the spread of the illness, Smelser said.

"It's spread person-to-person by direct contact with mucous, saliva, or the fluid from the blisters," he said. "It is also shed in the stool."

He said parents should keep kids with symptoms home, but even that will not completely stop the disease from spreading.

Smelser said kids can be infectious even without showing signs of the disease, so schools and day care centers have to step up their cleanliness routines until the outbreak subsides.

The New Mexico Health Department has had reports of clusters of hand-foot-mouth disease among children all over the state since spring, he said.