What's Up, Doc? runs on our Health Page every Wednesday and features questions from our readers about their health concerns. Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is hand-foot-mouth disease? How does it affect humans? How is it treated? Is it related to the foot-and-mouth disease that so devastated livestock in Britain several years ago?
John Kellas, Ha Noi
Hand-foot-mouth disease (HFMD) is a human disease caused by one of several intestinal viruses. It should not be confused with foot-and-mouth disease, another viral disease, that affects cloven-hoofed animals, but only very rarely humans.
Hand-foot-mouth disease usually affects infants and children under five years old and is uncommon in adults.
The disease is contagious and spreads through direct contact with the infected person. It has become more widespread in recent years in Viet Nam.
Most of the cases in Viet Nam were non-fatal – the mortality rate is typically 1-1.5/1,000.
In more serious cases, it can affect the central nervous system, causing respiratory disorders and possibly death.
The typical incubation period is three to seven days. Symptoms include a fever, sore throat and rashes on the hands, feet, mouth and tongue (hence the name of the disease).
There is no specific medicine for treating the disease and no vaccine has been developed.
To prevent infection, attention should be placed on food safety and hygiene. Regular washing of hands with an antiseptic soap is also recommended. Adults should keep children's toys clean and not let them put the toys in their mouth.
Dr Nguyen Hong Ha
Deputy director of the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases
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