Hand, Foot, And Mouth Disease, Fevers, and Childhood Illnesses

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease reared its head in the Berkeley area schools earlier this spring and started causing a stir. This childhood illness is caused by an enterovirus, which is a very common type of virus. These types of viruses enter the human host through respiratory or gastrointestinal secretions. Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease is generally a mild illness in a healthy child, although it can cause high fevers. For those of you whose children have already had the infection you may have recorded temperatures close to 103 F. Other symptoms are malaise, lesions in the mouth and a blistered-looking rash on the hands and feet, and occasionally on the buttocks.

HFMD, along with other common childhood illnesses such as Roseola, Chicken Pox, and Fifth Disease can be concerning due to the potential for complications. Generally speaking, however, a healthy child living in a healthy home environment will fare well with these infections. We have a lot of fear in our culture around illness and fevers, but thankfully we are beginning to see scientific evidence to support the long held belief in the naturopathic medical profession that fevers and common childhood illnesses are extremely beneficial for the developing immune system in a child. In fact, suppressing a fever may have adverse effects later in childhood or adult life (Lancet. 2009 Oct 17;374(9698):1305-6. ; Lancet. 2008 Sep 20;372(9643):1039-48).

I am sure we all appreciate efforts to keep our children healthy and prevent the spread of disease in the classroom, as a sick child makes for a complicated week of work and family logistics. However, I encourage you to consider that a truly healthy child is one who does get sick and does experience childhood fevers and routine illness. Staying healthy means getting sick every once in a while. When a patient comes to me and says “I never get sick! I have not been sick in years!” I am worried as to what else the immune system has been occupied with so much that it cannot respond to the persistent exposure all of us undergo to viruses and bacteria. Childhood illness is essential to childhood health. Of course, if you have an infant at home, you absolutely want to protect that child from exposure to acute illness. That said, breast feeding is protective against most of the transmissible diseases that comes into the home because the mother will develop her own antibodies that will then be passed to the child. There are many ways to support our children’s immune systems so that they move through acute illness gracefully and without complications. A few of these measures include ensuring your child’s vitamin D levels are adequate, administering probiotics regularly, and avoiding sugar in the diet.

Here are some interesting articles to read on the subject of fevers and illness:

NYT article on fevers.

Dr. Philip Incao, MD on fevers.

Dr. Jeannie Achuff, ND on routine colds and flus.