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D.C. sees uptick in hand, foot and mouth disease

Thursday - 5/29/2014, 4:41pm  ET

WASHINGTON -- Pediatricians in the D.C. area are noticing an uptick in hand, foot and mouth disease.

Dr. Lee Beers with the Children's National Health Systen says that's typical for this time of year, noting they are definitely seeing an increase in her clinic.

The name can be scary to parents, because it conjures up notions of various cattle diseases, like hoof and mouth. But Beers says hand, foot and mouth disease is different, and more resembles the colds and stomach bugs that tend to hit children in the colder months.

"Instead of a runny nose and cough, you get an unusual rash," she says, noting it is one of many viruses that can strike kids. Like colds and flu, it is fairly contagious, and can be passed from one child to another, which is why outbreaks seem to come in clusters.

The most tell tale symptom is a rash, usually on the hands, feet or buttocks. Mouth ulcers are another sign of hand, foot, and mouth disease, and children can have a temperature that is slightly above normal. "Sometimes kids will have low grade fevers or feel a little crummy, but the rash is really the distinctive thing," says Beers.

Symptoms typically last three to six days. There's no vaccine or treatment that will make them go away sooner, but there are things parents can do to make a child more comfortable while the disease runs its course.

Drinking lots of fluids is key, and doctors may suggest ibuprofen or acetamaminophen to ease any discomfort. Beers also recommends using a mixture of maalox and benedryl as a mouthwash "to coat those ulcers and make them feel better."

She says kids with fevers or open sores should stay home. But Beers says as a rule, Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease is "something that is troublesome for a few days but then takes care of itself on its own, with no problems for the child afterwards."

Still, it is important to take precautions. And like the colds and flu of winter, the best way to prevent hand, foot and mouth disease is rigorous hand washing.

That can be a bit problematic in the summer, when kids head off to camp. "They are running around, they don't always have easy access to sinks, they don't always have adults reminding them to wash their hands," notes Beers.

She says its probably a good idea to throw some hand sanitizer in with their camp gear, and have a talk with them before they leave about the importance of washing up while they are away.

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