It's peak season for hand, foot and mouth disease

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Photo: KlatschmohnAcker / Wiki

It's that time of year in Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's emergency departments.

Dr. Lauren Middlebrooks, a pediatric emergency medicine physician, says they are seeing a jump in infants and young children coming in with fever, sore throat and a blistery, red rash on their palms, soles, and inside their mouths.  

They call this hand, foot and mouth disease, and it's common and contagious.

So, what are the symptoms to watch for?

"So what people may notice is that 2 or 3 days before they see this telltale rash, their child may feel a little bit weaker than normal, may not feel as well, may have a runny nose, fever, and sore throat," Dr. Middlebrooks says.

Most children with hand, foot and mouth will not need emergency treatment and will get through the virus in 7 to 10 days. But Middlebrooks says hand, foot, and mouth is easily spread through oral and nasal secretions, the fluids from the blisters and through the child's feces. So, she says, practice a lot of handwashing, wipe down common surfaces, and push plenty of fluids.  Because it's caused by a family of viruses, Middlebrooks says, the best option is just to treat the child's symptoms.

"So if there is any pain from the lesions popping up, you can give Motrin or Tylenol," Middlebrooks says.  "Then, if there is any itching associated with it, you can also try some Benadryl."

Kids with hand, foot, and mouth are contagious for about a week. So, keeping sick children home and away from their siblings will help stop the spread of the virus.

"The second thing I teach is always teaching your kids how to sneeze correctly," Middlebrooks says. "So, one thing we teach in the pediatric world is cough and sneeze, elbow, please.  That means sneeze directly into your elbow."

If you see a high fever, back or neck stiffness or a headache, take your child to the ER.

Those can be signs of viral meningitis or brain inflammation, which are rare but can be severe complications. For most youngsters, she says, the best medicine rest, fluids and time.

"But, what you want to do is make sure that you're cleared to go back to school or daycare by your doctor rather than increased risk of transmitting this to other kids," Middlebrooks says.