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Complications of the Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

A recent investigation conducted by the World Health Organization on the deaths of young children in Cambodia concluded that the hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) was the cause.

The ages of the children studied ranged from a couple of months to 11 years old.

Though a common disease prevalent in the United States among children under 11 years old, the disease has killed hundreds in Asia
this year. For children in the U.S., it is the peak season for HFMD right now, with yearly peaks in the number of cases from spring through fall. Usually a mild disease, it affects children with low fevers, blister-like sores in the mouth, and a skin rash.

Along with Cambodia is Vietnam, leading the way in the number of cases. The Vietnam Ministry of Health has reported over 50,000 cases with 27 fatalities. This has prompted the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue a travel notice to Vietnam.

The Chinese Ministry of Health also reported at least 240 deaths from the hand, foot, and mouth disease.

Though typically a benign disease, the strain of HFMD in Vietnam and other Asian countries, EV71, can be fatal. The disease can develop into encephalitis, aseptic meningitis, acute flaccid paralysis, pulmonary edema or hemorrhage and myocarditis. Most deaths in HFMD occur as a result of pulmonary edema or hemorrhage.

Since there is no vaccination or treatment for HFMD, the WHO and CDC have recommended the following to protect yourself:

“Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially before eating and after going to the bathroom or changing a diaper. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner with at least 60% alcohol. Consider packing alcohol-based hand cleaner in your carry-on luggage to ensure you have it when needed.

  • Disinfect dirty surfaces and soiled items. If you are able, first wash the items with soap and water; then disinfect them with a solution of chlorine bleach (made by mixing 1 tablespoon of bleach with 4 cups of water) or a cleaning product that contains bleach.
  • Avoid close contact such as kissing, hugging, or sharing eating utensils or cups with people who have HFMD.

There is no specific treatment for HFMD. If you do develop mouth sores:

  • Take over-the-counter medications to relieve pain and fever. (Caution: Aspirin should not be given to children.)
  • Use mouthwashes or sprays that numb mouth pain.
  • Drink plenty of liquids to stay hydrated.

Seek medical care:

  • If you are sick and unsure if you have HFMD.
  • If you cannot swallow liquids to stay hydrated.”

Center for Disease Control

Perhaps the best piece of advice anyone can provide is to steer clear from Southeast Asia until HFMD passes.