Washing hands often with soap and water, especially after changing diapers and using the toilet, will help prevent the spread of contagious diseases such as hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD), says the Director of Paediatric Emergency Services at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), Dr Khalid Al Ansari.

According to the US-based Centres for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), there are thousands of new HFMD cases reported around the world each month. In countries with temperate or varying climates, cases occur more often in the spring to fall.

Hand, foot and mouth disease is common in children but can also occur in adults. It can occur at any time of the year but is most common in the summer and fall. In Qatar, we tend to see an increase in cases during the colder months. We see around 3,500 children diagnosed with the disease annually.

While health complications from HFMD are not common, viral or ‘aseptic’ meningitis can occur with the disease. This is rare, however. It can cause fever, headache, stiff neck or back pain and may require the infected person to be hospitalised for a few days.’

He maintains that cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and soiled items, including toys, as well as avoiding close contacts such as kissing, hugging, or sharing eating utensils or cups with people who have HFMD, will go a long way in preventing the spread of the disease.

Hand, foot and mouth disease usually starts with fever, poor appetite, a vague feeling of being sick and a sore throat. Symptoms of the disease include a high temperature, blister-like sores in the mouth and a skin rash. The rash is usually on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet; it may also appear elsewhere on the limbs and buttocks. Those infected with the viruses that cause HFMD may not experience all the symptoms of the disease.’

He said that some people, especially young children, may become dehydrated if they are not able to swallow enough liquids because of painful mouth sores, adding that not everyone will get all of these symptoms.

Some people, especially adults, may show no symptoms at all, but they can still pass the virus to others.’

Dr Al Ansari also explained that the method of diagnosing HFMD depends on the severity of the symptoms. He said that samples taken from the throat or faeces (stool) may be collected and sent to a laboratory to test for the virus.

He added that there is no vaccine to protect against the viruses that cause HFMD.  However, good hand washing habits, especially among children, can help prevent the spread of the disease.

The condition is self-limiting and usually passes within seven days. Treatment is mainly supportive. If parents have questions about the condition, they should contact their doctor.’

For more information about HFMD, visit the HMC website