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Doctors are seeing spike in hand, foot and mouth disease

Doctors in several states are seeing an uptick in hand, foot and mouth disease.

It is a highly contagious viral infection that normally affects children under five years old, but it has been recently spreading to adults as well.

This summer, the virus sidelined two Major League Baseball players. Just this week, West Virginia University cancelled its Fan Day after five of its football players contracted the illness.

Dr. Scott Norton, the chief of Dermatology at Children's National Medical Center in Washington D.C., said this is a common childhood disease and relatively mild, but extremely contagious. He said it can spread rapidly among small children, daycares, preschools and elementary schools.

"Because it will sweep through a community, I think it's important for families, schools and community leaders to realize we have this right now, particularly at the beginning of the school year," said Dr. Norton. "We don't want to have any outbreaks as these kids all get together once again, so I would like to get the word out that this is something we are seeing a lot of here in mid-August."

He said the viral infection is common this time of year, but he is seeing more cases this year. Dr. Norton said he sees two to three cases a day at his clinic, and between 10 and 20 cases a day at the emergency room.

Children who contract the virus can develop a low-grade fever, sores in their mouth and have a loss of appetite. But the most obvious symptom is the rash that appear on the hands, feet and around the mouth.

"It's both on the palms, soles and the backs of the hands and feet, and we see these very characteristic mini-blisters on the hands in particular," Dr. Nelson said. "They will look like scattered dots - maybe three or four millimeters in diameter and they usually have a very bright red rim, but they are totally painless."

Hand, foot and mouth disease can be transmitted three ways.

"It's transmitted through oral and nasal secretions," said Nelson. "So if a child sneezes or coughs on someone, that can transmit it. It can be transmitted directly through contact with mini-blisters on the skin and the virus can also be transmitted through soiled diapers."

Dr. Norton said it is best to keep your kids at home until the blisters dry up and they no longer have a fever. The best way to prevent the spread of the virus is to practice good hygiene - wash your hands, use hand sanitizer and disinfect surfaces.