Feet, Mouth, Hands, Hooves and Viruses
When I was in grad school I learned about a disease called foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) or hoof-and-mouth disease. It is caused by a highly infectious virus that infects cloven animals, such as cattle and goats. The virus usually causes a high fever for 2-3 days followed by blisters in the mouth and on the feet that can cause lameness. Sometimes the virus is fatal and the disease can be a significant problem for farms.
Despite our every-shrinking world, many countries (including the US) remain FMD free and work hard to keep it that way.
Imagine my surprise and confusion when, many years ago, Number 1 developed a rash that was diagnosed as hand, foot and mouth disease, and I could only think of FMD. No, he wasn’t patient zero of the first reported case of FMD in the US (thank goodness) he just had a very common childhood illness.
The human illness, hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is often seen in the summer and causes small, tender blisters and red spots on the palms, soles of feet and inside the mouth (usually on the tongue, gums and cheek). Kids with HFMD can develop cold symptoms such as a low-grade fever and a mild sore throat and will be tired, often before the rash erupts. Some kids may also get diarrhea. Symptoms typically last about a week.
FMD and HFMD share similar symptoms in animals and humans and are genetically related as well. They are both members of the picornavirus family, which is composed of small viruses that use RNA for genetic material. The picornavirus family is large and includes many (in)famous viruses such as rhinoviruses (some of the viruses responsible for the common cold), hepatitis A virus and poliovirus. While many of these viruses cause symptomatic disease, others can infect an animal with only the immune system knowing there was an invader.
In the case of HFMD, you will probably know it is there when you see the characteristic rash. Just don’t be like me and be worried that you are starting a new epidemic in the country!