It seems like everyone has had hand, foot and mouth disease this summer. This is the colloquial way of referring to some of the symptoms that can be caused by the Coxsackie virus. A lot of parents get nervous since this virus has a name. Luckily, in most cases the virus runs its course with supportive management. This article is meant to help you understand the causes, symptoms and treatment of this common childhood illness.

What is Coxsackie?

Coxsackie is a virus that belongs to a family of viruses known as enteroviruses. It is spread person to person through contact with an infected persons hands or touching a shared surface. Illness is most common during the summer and the fall but can occur year round.

Why does it have a name?

Dr. Gilbert Dalldorf discovered Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease viruses in 1948–49 while researching a polio outbreak in upstate New York with his colleague Grace M. Sickles. He named the virus after the town of Coxsackie, NY where he first received the specimens used to discover the virus. Even though this virus has a name, it’s like having a common cold and having a name doesn’t make it more dangerous.

What are the symptoms?

The virus can cause different symptoms in children. Some may have very mild symptoms, and it’s hard to tell if they’re infected.

Usually, kids with this virus have a fever, sore throat, headache, and stomachache. These symptoms can be different for each child, even within the same family.

In this case, kids often have a high fever, are cranky, and have sores in their throat and blisters on their hands and feet. They may not have all of these symptoms. Usually, the virus goes away on its own within 5 to 7 days, although it can be uncomfortable. In rare cases, it can cause more serious problems like viral meningitis or inflammation of the heart (myocarditis).

Is it contagious?

Yes, this virus is very contagious! It spreads quickly especially in a camp or day care setting. Even if your child has had the virus, they can get it again. There are many strains of this virus, and therefore, a second episode is possible from a different strain, such as the Coxsackie B Virus. When a large number of children are sick with the virus, the risk of contracting the virus is highest among infants and kids younger than 5. The virus spreads easily in group settings like schools, childcare centers, and summer camps.

What can I do to prevent my child from getting coxsackie?

Children who feel ill or have a fever should be excluded from group settings until the fever is gone for 24 hours and the child is feeling better. All family members should wash their hands frequently with soap and water, particularly after using the toilet, after changing a diaper, before meals, and before preparing food. Shared toys in childcare centers should be cleaned frequently because the virus can live on these objects for days.

What can I do to help my child?

There is no specific treatment for this virus. Antibiotics are not prescribed as they only work against bacteria and can’t be used to fight a viral infection. Treatment is aimed at controlling your child’s symptoms and trying to make them as comfortable as possible. This includes medication to control pain and fever. You should also encourage your child to drink a lot of fluids. You can try cool liquids and popsicles as your child’s throat may hurt. Most children with a simple coxsackie virus infection recover completely after a few days of rest.

When should I seek further medical treatment?

  • Fever > 100.4 in children less than 2 months old
  • Fever lasting > three days
  • Poor oral intake
  • Unusual fussiness or crying, especially if fever free and lasting despite medication for pain control
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Unusual sleepiness
  • Convulsions
  • Headache or neck stiffness especially if accompanied by vomiting, sleepiness or irritability
  • If you have concerns about your child’s health and need further clarification