October 17, 2017
HFMD Viral Outbreak Warning: Hand, Foot, And Mouth Disease Spreading; Still No Vaccine

It's that time of the year when children and adults come down with a host of diseases and conditions. Influenza (the flu), the common col,d and some seasonal allergies round out the usual ailments.

Adding to the list is one you may have heard about, but have been lucky to escape its wrath: hand, foot and mouth disease (or HFMD). According to a report by the Stir, the contagious condition is spreading in some regions of the country while others are reporting symptoms.

The buzz about the not-so-familiar childhood disease began in the state of Florida. CBS Local learned that two elementary school children contracted hand, foot and mouth disease recently. Officials with Lakeview Elementary School in Sarasota sounded the alarm, but parents complained that notification moved at a snail's pace.

School administrators are under fire for allegedly having knowledge about the disease without sharing it with parents of enrolled students. Reports claim Sarasota County Schools failed in its duty to warn parents expeditiously and take precautions to prevent an outbreak. The Stir says school heads, despite receiving an email from its health room, neglected to notify parents.

Scott Ferguson, a communication's specialist, explained the school's historical response in similar cases. The school consults with the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County during potential outbreaks of communicable diseases.
"We usually don't inform parents about common illnesses that run their course in a few days, as this disease generally does.

"When we do contact parents about symptoms appearing in relatively large numbers at their child's school, we may ask them to take certain precautions, including keeping their children at home if they are exhibiting certain symptoms."

It's unclear if any policies were violated or the school uses discretion when responding to episodes of hand, foot and mouth disease and other contagious illnesses. Still, critics contend that it's in a school's best interest to notify parents so they can make informed decisions.

Historically, HFMD has been considered a disease that largely affects children. Ian Branam, a health communication specialist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (or CDC), weighed in the rising number of cases.

"It usually starts with a fever, reduced appetite, sore throat, and a feeling of being unwell. One or two days after the fever starts, painful sores can develop in the mouth."
Branam described classic hand, foot and mouth disease symptoms. The virus presents with tiny red spots or sores on a person's mouth, knees, buttocks, back, feet and genital area in some cases.

The disease spreads when a person comes into the another person's saliva, feces, nose secretions and fluid from oozing blisters. Because some people are asymptomatic (show no symptoms), they may be unknowingly spreading the illness.

WebMD wrote that the illness is often self-limiting; the body's immune system usually puts up a formidable defense. As the site warns, in rare cases, especially for those with weakened immunity, complications can develop. More serious conditions can result such as encephalitis, viral meningitis, and -- in extremely rare cases -- polio-like paralysis.

Branam warns that there is no hand, foot, and mouth disease vaccine. Perhaps, the best way to prevent or lessen the spread thorough hand washing, particularly when touching surfaces and coming into contact with a person suspected of being sick.

There's currently no vaccine for the illness, so hygiene is key, Branam said. The best ways to avoid being infected are by washing hands often with soap and water, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and items like toys, and avoiding close contact and sharing utensils with infected individuals.

According to the CDC, many confuse HFMD with a similar-sounding, but distinctly different: hand, foot, and foot-and-mouth disease (or hoof-and-mouth disease). This condition affects sheep, swine, and cattle.

Different viruses cause the two conditions. What is more, animals do not contract the human disease and vice versa.

[Featured image: Jovanmandic/iStock by Getty Images]