Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease! What's a Mom to Do?

        My eldest son, eight years old, came down with a fever this past Sunday. Given that Pertussis is going around his school, I immediately put him to bed, started a pot of bone broth, put on some thyme infusion and garlic lemonade (recipes to follow) and started getting him to drink lots of each. His fever remained between 100.5 - 102 for 36 hours, after which he had a slightly sore throat for another day before bouncing back to his regular self (which is literally bouncing... off the walls). 

        He was back in school on Thursday, so when my 18 month old also came down with a fever on Wednesday night, I knew he caught what my eldest son had and was simply relieved that it wasn't Pertussis. He also had a mild fever between 100-102 for approximately a day and a half. During his fever, he didn't have much of an appetite and I really had to coax him to drink fluids. With any illness where fever is present, dehydration is always one of the main concerns. When his fever cleared, his appetite came back with vehemence and he was taking fluids normally.

         Imagine my surprise then, when I pulled back into my driveway this morning (Friday) after drop off. My little one had pulled off his booties and I noticed that he had a blister on his foot. I brought him inside and applied my herbal salve to his blister, changed his bum, gave him a big kiss and put him down. He grabbed a book and urged me to come read to him. When I pulled him onto my lap on the couch and saw his little fingers holding his book- I noticed a second blister on one of his fingers. Two blisters in different spots, when my child has never even had one- I knew it wasn't coincidence. 

      A quick google search for "blisters on hands and feet of baby" told me he most likely has Hand, Foot and Mouth disease. It sounds awful, right? So I pulled out my text books, herbal guides and go to resources and learned all that I could about this virus. It turns out, luckily that it isn't nearly as awful as it sounds.

       Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD for short) is caused by a class of enterovirus called Coxsackievirus. There are numerous strains of the virus, so though exposure to one strain will result in permanent immunity- it is still possible to contract another strain and develop symptoms again. This class of viruses is so common that they are second to the common cold. Like so many childhood illnesses, the initial symptoms closely mimic the common cold.

       Symptoms include fever, sore throat, a rash or blisters on the mouth, hands and feet, though it may spread up the legs or arms, or onto the genitals too. There is sometimes little white sores in the mouth, loss of appetite (likely due to sores or fever) and diarrhea. Most children do not experience all symptoms. 

     Adults rarely get HFMD but it does happen. Since this virus is most contagious before symptoms ever show up, it is important to quarantine and treat the entire family. The incubation period for HFMD is 3-7 days and is spread via direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected person. This means sneezing, coughing, saliva, and feces so remember to make sure everyone is washing their hands really well! Wash your hands well after changing diapers too mums and dads! You may want to do a quick vinegar wash of door knobs, cupboard and fridge handles and frequently touched items as well. 

      Since conventional/modern medicine has little to offer children who have HFMD aside from Advil for discomfort or reduction in fever, it's important to know that there are many herbal remedies available that are antiviral, help support the immune system, and can help your child keep calm and rest. It is also important to note that fever suppression is not something to do when a fever is in a normal and safe range of 100-103. Fevers are the bodies way of literally burning off up the virus and should not be suppressed. If a fever goes higher than 104, you can try a tepid (luke warm) bath or herbal remedies- but do seek medical attention for an uncontrollable fever.

      My favorite herbal remedies with antiviral and immune boosting properties for children include lemon balm, peppermint and elderberry. These herbs are powerful, yet delicious and easy to get children to take. My eighteen month old loves lemon balm! You can make infusions (strong tea), use tinctures added to other liquid or syrups. Please don't give honey to children under the age of one due to risk of botulism and avoid giving juice to children unless is is heavily diluted as the high level of sugar is suppressing to the immune system. Contact your local herbalist (such as myself) if you are interested in having a custom anti-viral or immune boosting blend made up!

      Other helpful herbs that can and should be put into a soup or bone broth include Garlic, Onions, Astragalus, sea-weeds, Calendula, Oregano and Thyme. Make this into a delicious immune boosting soup or stew for your kids.
         Garlic "lemonade" can be made by adding 3-4 garlic cloves to a 1 litre jar and pouring boiling liquid over top. Allow this to steep and then mix in freshly squeezed lemon juice, and honey to taste. Note that this may be too acidic for children with very sore throats.

      To prevent secondary infection of the blisters, you can apply a salve made from one or a combination of the following: calendula, st. john's wort and usnea. You can also apply lemon balm tincture externally.

       If the rash is sore and irritating, oatmeal baths may be given and marshmallow or slippery elm tea can help sooth blisters and any irritation in the mouth or throat.

       Childhood illnesses are actually important strengtheners of a child's immune system. They exercise it, in a way, and I encourage everyone to look into the Anthroposophical view of childhood illness as a "soul-cleansing" experience. In other cultures, fever and childhood illnesses are through to help the child rid toxins from the body that may have accumulated in the womb. It is helpful to view illness as a positive and necessary process of becoming a strong, highly functioning, spiritual being. 

       One last note I want to leave you with is to continue to care for your child and keep them well nourished and rested in the convalescing period of the illness. My general rule of thumb is to allow for a convalescing period that is half the length of the duration of the illness. So if your child was sick for 4 days, allow 2 days of convalescing. 

      I'm officially on quarantine this week, friends while I help my child overcome this illness and support his development. Within an hour of the appearance of the first blister, several more had developed. Luckily I've got all the right remedies on hand! I hope this information can help other parent's in our area too! 



My little guy having his nap... notice the little rash on his mouth. That rash appeared after his fever and I didn't link it to HFMD until this morning when I saw his foot.