Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (AKA The Plague AKA The Pits of Hell)

I've held off on posting this update for a few reasons. Namely, because the last few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster for us and my goal here was to craft an update that will (hopefully) eventually be of some use to a parent facing the awful virus incorrectly named "Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease" (I'll explain why it's named wrong later in this post, but I think a more apt name would be HELL). 

Because things can never be easy around here, we thought it would be fun to go through a week of complete and utter torture. As a result, through tireless Internet searches, advice from other moms who've been there and done that, as well as one weekend call to the pediatrician's cell phone, I feel like I'm well versed in all things Hand, Foot and Mouth. And let me tell you, it is a BEAST! 

Adam and our yorkie comforting Baby C
Can you tell our dogs are very bonded with our entire family?

The tricky part about it is that I never even saw it coming. The kids had been sick the weekend prior and we kept them home from church (thank heavens). On Thursday, Baby C woke up from an unusually restless afternoon nap and felt warm. I took his temperature and it came back close to 102°. We've never had a fever that high so I knew something was up but because there was so much drooling, I thought perhaps he was cutting a molar. He didn't eat very much at dinner that night and I spent most of the night holding him in the recliner as every time I put him in his crib, he'd cry and cry which is completely unusual. The unusually high amount of drool really had me convinced me that it must be his teeth. Still, the next morning was Friday and I knew going into the weekend like this was risky and I could possibly regret not getting immediate medical care for him. I called at 9:00 to see if I could schedule an appointment. The earliest we could get in was 2:45 that afternoon. Throughout the day, Baby C was uncomfortable, crying often, and generally grumpy, not to mention, the drool continued to be incessant. By 2:00, when he and I left for doctor's office, his adopted grand-ma noticed that he was starting to develop sores on his feet. We live about twenty minutes from the pediatrician's office and when I took him out at her office, I noticed what looked like large fire ant bites starting to pop up on his hands and face. I knew immediately what I was dealing with. As I huddled in the corner, holding my sick, drooling, crying child and trying to shield other patients from him, I texted my husband and our adopted grand-ma that I bet she was going to tell me he had "hand, foot, and mouth disease". And that's exactly what happened.

I left the pediatrician's office with instructions to give Tylenol and Motrin for pain, lots of fluids (the real risk to HFM is dehydration), Pedialyte Pops and to watch the other three kiddos. Of course, by the time we made it home, Baby D was already showing signs of having it as well and we knew we were in for a time as we dealt with not only one case, but four. What ensued in the next few days is possibly summed up in one word: "hell".  I had seen other mothers in social media groups I participate in post pictures and updates in regard to their children having HFM and honestly I had prayed that we'd never get it. When we did, I was left with no choice but to face it head on. 

I spent that entire Friday night on the couch, often with three crying babies clinging to me at once (there would have been four but luckily I was able to manage to keep one asleep at all times). Sitting there hearing my children cry and yell that "bees" are getting them and knowing there's pretty much nothing (or so I was told) was the worst feeling in the world. I experienced a multitude of emotions including anger, fear, and guilt. The next day, I made it my mission to do whatever I could to make them comfortable. What follows is an accumulation of my research as well as what worked well for us from personal experience.

A few facts about HFM: 
  • Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (Coxsackie Virus) is a common viral infection.
  • It is most common in children under age five.
  • Adults can contract the virus, although the effects are usually milder than those seen in young children. (I am able to personally vouch for this one.) 
  • It begins with a sudden high fever and pain and is followed by a terrible rash on as the name suggests, the hands, feet, and mouth but also in the throat and the genital areas. A sore throat and mouth are also symptoms due to the sores the virus causes.
  • It is extremely contagious. The virus is carried by saliva and feces primarily but in the early stages, children can transmit it to one another just by being in the same room. It can also be transmitted by contaminated drinking water in rare cases. 
  • It cannot be transmitted from people to animals or vice-versa and should not be confused with the animal virus of a similar name. 
  • The virus can actually often be found in a patient's feces for two to three months following the initial infection!
  • At this time, no vaccine is available. 
  • The disease is similar to chicken pox, in that once you catch it, you generally build up immunity to it. However, there are multiple viruses that cause it and each one requires it's own immunity, so it is possible to catch it more than once.

Here are some of the tips I learned through researching the web, talking with our pediatrician, and talking with other moms who've been through it:

  • Pain Medication: I rotated Ibuprofen and Tylenol for the painful course of the illness. I kept a paper chart (although I'm told Walgreens has a good app for managing meds) on the kitchen counter with each child's name and the time and dosage given. This way, I was able to know when to give the next dose so that they were always covered with some sort of pain relief. Once I was able to get the rotation going, and able to maintain it around the clock, their level of pain was much more manageable.
  • Magic Mouthwash: By Saturday, the mouth sores had overtaken Baby C so badly that he couldn't even drink water without crying. Knowing that risk of dehydration was high, I phoned our pediatrician on her cell phone. She could hear the crying in the background and told me she was going to call in a prescription for Magic Mouthwash. This is a mixture of Mallox, benedryl, and lidocaine which coats the sores and numbs the pain in the mouth. You have to apply it carefully and make sure they don't swallow it but we were able to apply it gently with a q-tip and it gave relief for about 30 minutes at a time so that we could at least get water and some source of nutrition in them. 
  • L-Lysine: L-Lysine is an amino acid. I was given this suggestion from another multiples mom. Because this isn't a traditional treatment, I will not list dosages but one can easily find such information on their own should they wish to go this route. My husband was only able to find the pill form of just the lysine so we crushed them up and administered in ice cream or yogurt. I will say that the ones who we were able to get to take the medicine seemed to have less severe sores on their bodies and the ones they did have cleared up much faster than the ones who would not eat it. 
  • Essential Oils: I know essential oils are all the rage right now and to be honest, I've dabbled a bit but never really been a big believer. But after a few nights with absolutely zero sleep due to the pain my kids were experiencing, I would have given both arms to find something to help them. Out of desperation, I was able to find some oils locally. I administered the two oils I used in a carrier oil to the bottoms of their feet and up and down their spines three or four times a day. After the first time we used it, I knew I was on to something all four soon began to come and lay down in front of me to show me the bottoms of their feet saying "metcine, mommy" and asking for more.
  • Avoid citrus fruits and fried foods: their mouths (and later mine) were basically a raw open sore. I was careful to make sure we only served foods that would feel good on the sores. Lots of cold or room temperature foods went over best. 
  • Sleep: I'm almost hesitant to actually write this here, but we've always been blessed with good sleepers for the most part. Sleep is important in our household and we've always had a pretty strict schedule for them to adhere in regard to wake and sleep times. We are still in cribs but when I found them actually asking to get into their beds at weird times, I knew that sleep would make them feel better. Our schedule got off a little bit as a result, but the quads took longer naps at different times of day, sometimes not waking up until six or seven in the evening which meant they didn't go to bed until nineish but they always went back to sleep when expected so we were able to tolerate it. Sleep heals the body and I fully feel like it definitely helped them. Never once while they were sick did I wake anybody up because I was afraid they wouldn't sleep at night. If it happened, I was prepared that I'd stay up/sleep on the couch with them but fortunately, it didn't happen. 

We are now close to two weeks into this and the kids are feeling much better. I even got to join in the fun for a few days with my own version that consisted of a really bad sore throat, fatigue, and a few little sores popping up on my hands and feet as well as in my throat. The kids' appetites have returned and are bigger than ever and while there's still a lot of crying and whining going on in our house, it's now related to the ever-present sibling battles that occur when there are four of them or else because well, there's four two-year-olds living here and that's just part of our life. The last of the sores are healing up nicely and as a precaution on a few that looked a little suspicious, I'm treating appropriately with antibiotic ointment. The skin on their hands and feet is now peeling off as a result and I'm told it's highly likely they may also lose their finger and toenails in the coming month or two. None of us are looking forward to that!

Per the pediactrician's recommendation and out of respect to all the other parents out there, we are erring on the side of caution and not taking them around other kids until a week after the last rash started erupting or until all of the sores have completely healed. Which will be nine days from today. Ouch! 

While I really hope that if you're reading this far your little one isn't experiencing this awful childhood virus, hopefully at least a little bit of the information I've compiled will serve as comfort for both you and your little one(s) if you are. If I can help you, please don't hesitate to reach out and if you have a tip or a trick that worked for you, please leave it in the comments below so that others can see! 


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