Updated August 10, 2018
So, a while back we had a mini epidemic of hand, foot, and mouth disease (aka HFMD) in our family, striking 2 adult daughters, 2 son-in-laws, one husband, and one small grandchild. I was spared.
We think it was Disneyland’s fault. The incubation period is 3-7 days and HFMD started with the first family member on day 5 after a Disneyland trip; the happiest place on Earth creating a most unhappy time. Incongruent, I know.
What the Heck Is HFMD
Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD) is a viral illness that usually onIy children get; most adults are supposedly immune to it because, it is thought, that most adults already got it as children, maybe even unknowingly. It is supposed to be quite common. However, I don’t remember ever seeing this disease when my 6 children were growing up.
Not to be confused with Hoof and Mouth disease (HMD), please. According to the CDC and Wikipedia, usually only animals get that; fortunately humans are rarely affected by HMD. Interestingly, HMD is a highly contagious, serious, sometimes fatal virus that affects cloven-hoofed livestock such as cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats, but also can infect wild animals like deer, antelope, and bison. Well, I think it is interesting anyway.
Signs and Symptoms of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease
But back to HFMD, the real topic at hand. HFMD starts off with cold or flu-like symptoms, then 90% of the people develop a rash after 1 or 2 days on the – you guessed it – hands, feet, and mouth; although the rash is not entirely limited to those areas. Some of my family members reported the rash being extremely painful, likening it to shingles pain, but none of those people have ever had shingles, so…
Anyway, THE RASH: Red, roundish, varying in size from very little to larger and running- together, that appeared in our family members as flat or raised or as blisters. After a few days the pain dissipates, the rash fades to more of a brownish color, and the skin looks rather wax-coated and scaly. I was rather shocked to observe that when the skin was shed it looked like many layers of skin were affected.
Some people lose their fingernails or toenails; my daughter, being one of them, lost fingernails and toenails. It is noteworthy though, that she had been on steroids, which suppresses the immune system, so perhaps that is why she experienced the worst reactions compared to the rest of the family.
HFMD usually runs its course over 7-10 days, and presents with fever, sore throat, and malaise; and is usually without any complications.
How HFMD is Transmitted
It is spread much the same way as colds and flu’s. Caused by a group of viruses in the Enterovirus genus, HFMD is transmitted in saliva, nasal mucus, feces, and blister fluid. The virus is disseminated into the air during sneezing, coughing, and even by the spray that can be emitted while a person is talking. It can be transmitted while changing diapers, using restrooms, or actually touching any hard surface (like door knobs, toilets, or toys) that are contaminated by the virus, and not using good hygiene practices. This especially pertains to not washing your hands and then touching your face, eyes, nose, or mouth.
If someone in your home contracts HFMD, it is imperative that you frequently and thoroughly clean any surfaces, dishes, and utensils used by the ill person, and even everyone living there, because others may be carriers of the virus yet never appear ill.
How to Treat HFMD
Because HFMD is caused by a virus, antibiotics are useless. The best ways to treat HFMD are to take measures to boost the immune system, and to provide comfort measures as this is a very uncomfortable disease. For the former see Attacking Viruses Regimen below. For the latter I recommend staying hydrated with cool drinks, soothing Epsom salt baths, lavender essential oil (1 drop mixed with a palm full of coconut, olive, or almond oil, and diffusing lavender or frankincense oil to calm and encourage sleep. These essential oils, of course, have other beneficial properties, but that is not the focus of this article.
Attacking Viruses Regimen
My top 3 recommendations are coconut oil, elderberry extract and essential oils both for prevention and treatment. Make green tea or an herbal tea and add 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil, and 1-2 tablespoons of elderberry extract (also see note below), and drink that a few times a day. Prophylactically, I drink this concoction on most days that I work as a nurse during the flu season. I highly recommend the use of essential oils for many conditions. But please do your own research. I am a big believer in the benefits of essential oils, but I also understand that proper care is needed with their use.
Then also hammering the virus with things like:
- Vitamin C: 1000 mg 3X daily or more
- Echinecea: I brewed my own in vodka, but you can also buy the tincture at a health food store like Whole Foods. Hold it in your mouth for a couple of minutes, then swallow. If it is effective stuff you should feel tingling in your mouth. This is good for the gums too.
- Garlic: Raw, anyway you can get it in your body or capsules for the wimp
- Lots of liquids: various soups, bone broth, tea, smoothies, etc.
- Reduce stress, increase rest
- Mentally attack the virus and resolve not to give in
- Vitamin D3: Take 5,000 to 10,000 IU’s daily during illness
- Watching funny movies, YouTube videos, and TV shows, laughter and positive thoughts stimulate the immune system
The more artillery you use the better, in my opinion. A final thought I would like to pass on is that I use a lot of coconut oil all of the time. I cook with it often, like with roasting or sauteeing vegetables, I stir it in my tea, and I have a jar in the bathroom, which I use on my skin. This seems to keep me from getting cold and flu viruses very often even though I am regularly exposed to them being a nurse in a facility where many people come in sick.
*I came across a recipe from Wellness Mama to make your own elderberry extract that is fairly easy and will be a lot less expensive.
Keeping Your Terrain Strong
I firmly believe that the best way to avoid colds, the flu, and other viruses is by keeping your terrain strong. This can be done by doing things like eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep, avoiding stress, exercising, and avoiding junky, processed, sugar-laden foods. As for the latter, sugar can dampen the immune system for several hours. Who would want that? And this bears repeating, it is also very helpful to wash your hands frequently and not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, which are all entry points for the bugs.
The best way to fight a virus is to launch a strong attack when you feel the very first symptom signaling a viral attack. Attack it back as fast and hard as you can because the way viruses work is they get in your system and start multiplying. They multiply insidiously, kind of like that money thing I am sure you have heard about where if you start off with one penny on January 1st and double the amount each day, by the end of the month you would have about a gazillion dollars. In this respect, viruses are like pennies, except cold and flu viruses work much faster than doubling pennies. This analogy is to help you understand how important it is to start fighting a virus while the viral load is still small. It is also important to remember that when you feel better stay diligent for the next few days in case there a few little viruses hanging around ready, like Jason in those horror movies, to assault you just when you think that you are safe.
This is article is not meant to take the place of medical advice from your doctor. If the ill person is having any alarming symptoms such as lethargy, shortness of breath, confusion, high fever, a rash that looks like a bruise, etc., make sure you obtain medical help. In rare instances encephalitis or meningitis can develop, or what you think is HFMD is possibly something more serious.
The moral of this story is, no, don’t avoid Disneyland forever, but use good hygiene and keep your terrain strong. You just never know where the next virus will be lurking.
My passion is alternative, natural treatments to health problems. I am constantly on the lookout and researching non-pharmaceutical solutions to health concerns. If you are interested in working with me, please contact me here. I offer a free consultation so we can determine whether or not it would be beneficial to work together.
Also, check out this article I wrote to learn more about the efficacies of coconut oil against viruses like mono.
For more info see what Dr. Josh Axe has to say about HFMD.