Hand, foot and mouth disease in babies

Monday May 13 2019

Legs covered with red spots, one of the signs

Legs covered with red spots, one of the signs of hand, foot, mouth disease. PHOTO | COURTESY 

By Tasneem Hassanali

Last Sunday, my daughter who turned 1 year and four months developed a mild fever around noon. She had just recovered from an ear infection and I began to think ‘maybe it was never over’.

By 3pm the fever rose and I had to administer paracetamol syrup for the fever to subside. By evening she began scratching the area around her ankles and elbows. Since she has eczema and scratching is quite normal for her, I ignored the sign.

Mild fever was the first sign. After the fever, she developed painful red blisters in her mouth, red or fluid filled blisters on arms and legs, loss of appetite, a sore throat and mouth, she was generally feeling tired and was very irritated. We all assumed it was chicken pox.

We took her to the hospital the same evening and upon examination, her paediatrician diagnosed her condition with what is called hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD).

Her paediatrician told us that HFMD is a common viral illness that he has seen a lot of cases in Dar es Salaam lately and unfortunately there is no specific treatment. She was prescribed paracetamol syrup for fever and calamine lotion to soothe her blister-like bumps.

My daughter’s paediatrician warned me that HFMD is very contagious and the symptoms can get worse in the first three days before it begins to settle, which can take 7 to 10 days. HFMD is common in children under four years. It spreads easily – your baby can catch it if someone coughs or sneezes near her or from places such as playgroups or from sharing toys.

The bumps and spots gradually spread to the legs, bottom and groin. She was reluctant to eat or drink because the blisters in her mouth got very painful on the second day.

How I took care of her

Usually, baby with HFMD can become very grizzly and hard to settle, but there are things you can do to comfort her and this is what I did as advised by her paediatrician.

Since it hurt for her to swallow anything, I tried offering smaller but more frequent feeds of her usual milk.

I gave her soft, easy-to-eat meals, such as mashed potato or soup - nothing spicy or tart, as this could sting her mouth.

I gave her water or cold juice to sip every now and then for her to stay hydrated.

Infant paracetamol helped to relieve her pain and reduce her fever. Consult your physician on the dosage according to her age.

After a bath, I would pat her dry, as the affected areas of her skin were tender. I was also advised to trim her nails because scratching would pop the blister and could further infect other parts.

I also patted the affected areas with calamine lotion to soothe the blistered areas.

Warning signs

Health experts say that HFMD can’t be treated with antibiotics, because it’s a virus. It just needs to run its course, however miserable it is for your baby and you.

Sometimes, though, HFMD causes problems that do need a doctor’s advice. Take her to the doctor if you spot these signs:

• Drowsiness

• Tearless crying

• Drier nappies than usual

• Dark yellow wee

• Cold hands and feet

Keep an eye on your baby’s temperature too. Take her to the doctor if:

• Her fever doesn’t improve.

• She is under three months old and has a temperature of 38 degrees C or above.

• She is between three months and six months old and has a temperature of 39 degrees C or above.


According to kidshealth.com’s health experts, frequent hand washing helps decrease the chance of spreading the infection. This is because the virus is found in poo, blisters and saliva, and from a runny nose.

Take special care to wash hands:

• After using the toilet

• When changing nappies (the virus can be found in poo for several weeks)

• When handling objects and toys which children hold or put in their mouths.

Keep your child at home if they are unwell or have blisters. It is important that your child does not go back to childcare or school until all the blisters have dried. Staying away from others who have the disease, cleaning/not sharing toys during the infection also helps prevent spread of the disease.