BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Children are heading back to school, and they are going to be sharing more than pencils. Illnesses like hand, foot, and mouth disease are spiking right now.
Doctors are urging parents to be on the lookout for symptoms and catch them early.
"It's caused by a virus, and so viruses a lot of times are spread by contact. A child coughs, sneezes, they are playing with something and their germs - good or bad - are on there. The next kid comes along and picks it up," says Dr. Candice Dye, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at UAB.
What is hand, foot, and mouth disease?
It's a highly contagious virus that is most common in children younger than 5, although adults can catch it too. Cases usually spike in summer and fall, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The first sign in children is a fever, followed by sores in the mouth, and then a rash on the hands and feet. Symptoms usually start to appear a week after exposure
"Look for symptoms. If they have a fever, if they are not feeling well, that is going to come first. After a couple days they may show the signs of the rash," says Dr. Dye
Doctors say the best course of action is to keep children home and away from other kids until the fever is gone and they are feeling better. The rash can take up to two weeks to fully disappear, but children are not contagious for that entire time.
Hand, foot, and mouth can make it painful to drink water and doctors warn that can lead to other problems as well as prolong the illness.
"One of the big things with hand, foot, and mouth, especially if they have actual mouth sores, is them being dehydrated because it hurts to drink the mouth sores hurt so that may be a symptom that sometimes prolongs it," explains Dr. Dye.
The illness is spread through all bodily fluids. There is no vaccine or cure, so doctors urge that parents and caregivers make sure children are washing their hands and following overall good hygiene. Doctors also encourage caregivers to sanitize all play areas and toys.