Hand-foot-and-mouth disease outbreak worries parents

A new strain of hand-foot-and-mouth disease has been sickening local children and sending many scared parents to the pediatrician and emergency room, according to Johns Hopkins pediatric dermatologists. But the doctors say most cases are benign and clear up in a little over a week without treatment.

Hopkins doctors have seen almost 50 cases in recent months and fielded many more phone calls from parents and doctors, according to Dr. Bernard Cohen, director of pediatric dermatology at Hopkins Children’s Center. And he said most cases are probably seen in primary care pediatricians’ offices.

“What we are seeing is relatively common viral illness called hand-foot-and-mouth disease but with a new twist,” he said. He said causing the disease is an unusual strain of the common coxsackie virus that previously had only been seen in Africa and Asia but is now being seen all over the United States.

The virus is contagious and normally strikes children under 5, usually in the summer and fall. Symptoms include fever, malaise, a non-itchy rash with flat or raised red spots on the hands and feet, and mouth sores.  

This strain can produce a more widespread rash, can affect older children and can have more serious complications, though none have been seen at Hopkins, Cohen said. In general, the Hopkins doctors say parents can generally wait out the illness if their child is generally healthy but to call a doctor is their child is having problems feeding or drinking or is acting ill or has underlying health conditions.

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