According to dermatologists at John Hopkins Children’s Center, parents and pediatricians are worried about a new strain of hand foot and mouth virus.

Bernard Cohen, M.D., director of pediatric dermatology at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, and colleague Kate Puttgen, M.D., have reported seeing or consulting almost 50 cases of HMFD in just a few short months. Cohen states that this may be just the beginning due to the fact that pediatricians are seeing such a large number of new cases. They note that although cases don’t last long (7 to 10 days) and are usually mild, the HFMD can be dangerous if untreated.

The virus, which affects mostly children, but can affect adults if they have immune deficiencies, can result in the following symptoms:

  • fever
  • malaise
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • fatigue
  • ear aches
  • lesions, ulcers or blisters of the mouth, nose or face
  • itchy body rash, which is followed by blisters on the soles of the feet and hands
  • in kids, blisters of the buttocks
  • irritability
  • diarrhea
  • appetite loss

“What we are seeing is a relatively common viral illness called hand-foot and mouth disease, but with a new twist,” Cohen says of the new strain.

The problem is stemming from a strange strain of the coxsackie virus, a common virus which normally causes HMFD. The new strain is called coxsackie A6, which had only been prevalent in Asia and Africa.

Infants and children under the age of 5 can become infected with the coxsackie virus in the summer and fall and suffer from the normal symptoms, but Cohen says the new strain acts differently, and that coxsackie A6 comes with symptoms which include: a higher risk serious illness and a rash which spreads to the face, arms, legs and diaper area for babies.

Puttgen added:

“We’ve talked with many of our pediatrics dermatology colleagues around the country and the number of cases and the severity of the rash is clearly new and different from the typical hand, foot and mouth disease we are used to seeing. The good news is that it looks bad but hasn’t actually caused severe symptoms for our patients.”

According to the report, the virus could also lead to a rash which looks like herpes simplex lesions, which would need to be treated with antivirals.

Cohen comments: “It can look like disseminated herpes simplex, and parents may panic if they don’t know what it is, but unlike herpes simplex, this rash evolves very fast. It’s bad for a few days and then gets better very quickly without any treatment at all.”

Cohen and Puttgen say that the best way to reduce spreading the virus is by keeping up good hygiene, such as washing hands regularly. They add that children do not need to see a specialist if the doctor sees the rash as HMFD and the child is in good health in general.

Cohen concludes: “If the child has low-grade fever, but is otherwise well, waiting and watching is appropriate. If the child is having problems with feeding or drinking or acting ill, it’s time to call the doctor.” He notes that if a child has cancer, an immune deficiency or any other type of serious illness, their doctor should be monitoring closely to make sure that complications do not arise.

Written by Christine Kearney