Hand, foot and mouth disease is here. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Hello from North Haven!

The golden end-of-summer weather warrants the above exclamation point, but it’s half-hearted. For that back-to-school scourge, hand, foot and mouth disease, has broken out in the midcoast, and that includes North Haven. My three-year-old hasn’t escaped.

She has a very mild case, thankfully, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t shedding virus, and she’s been out of school since Monday to hopefully prevent her from sharing with her few uninfected peers. My husband and I have been engaged in intense negotiations over who stays home with her which day. We’re both teachers, and missing work in the second week of school is anxious-making to say the least.  We’re also trying to navigate our evening commitments of open houses, parent meetings and play rehearsals. Ordinarily Penrose would just tag along with one of us, but our darling little disease vector has to be kept quarantined.

I’ve learned more than I wanted to about hand, foot and mouth disease in the last few days. Here are some highlights:

Yes, they really have to stay home. Hand, foot and mouth disease manifests really differently in different people. Even though Penrose just has two little sores on her tongue, only had a mild fever one of the nights, and isn’t acting sick at all, keeping her away from uninfected people can prevent them from getting symptoms that could include mouth and throat sores so severe that they cause dehydration, and high fevers.

It just takes time. As much as I wish there were some sort of folk remedy or salve I could put on Pen’s sores to hasten their healing, there’s really nothing. I’ve heard sage tea or a topical mix of Maalox and Benadryl recommended to ease irritation, and of course Tylenol or similar for a fever, but the only thing to do is wait it out, stay hydrated, get sleep, and be patient.

Hand-washing and surface cleaning is key. Other than isolating symptomatic kids – and kids or adults can be contagious without being symptomatic – keeping hands and surfaces clean is the only preventative measure available. Hand sanitzers aren’t useful here, (and they wipe out beneficial bacteria), but soap and hot water are.

Sick at home, but feeling ok, with a popsicle to help with soreness. Photo (and parenting) by William Trevaskis

Because the playground and restaurants are off limits for Pen right now, but she’s full of energy, her time at home has required some creative thinking for my husband and I. I used Monday to have her help clean out our closets and put together a donation bag of too-small clothes. We read stacks of books and watched a lot of Miyazaki movies. My husband was home with her yesterday, and they took the dog to a quiet beach and were rewarded with a beached jellyfish to examine. When I came home, and he ran out the door to his play rehearsal, Pen asked me to help her make a boat for her Moana toy. Today we went to the beach again. I’m torn between feeling guilty about missing work, and feeling guilty about feeling guilty instead of fully enjoying the gorgeous weather and the extra one-on-one time with my daughter.

Still at home, but at least Moana has a boat and an ocean to sail on.

If you notice any symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease in your kids or yourself – sores or blisters, fatigue, fever, loss of appetite, or a sore throat can all indicate infection – get ready to settle in for a calm and cozy quarantine. It’s certainly annoying, frustrating and inconvenient, but it’s the only thing to do.

Taking out every Audubon guide (and reading some of them) is a good way to fill an hour. Is it time to go back to school yet?



Courtney Naliboff

About Courtney Naliboff

In addition to this blog, I'm a contributing writer to kveller.com, a Jewish parenting site, a blogger and book reviewer for reformjudaism.org, and the author of Salt Water Cure, a column in Working Waterfront. I report news from North Haven for Working Waterfront and Island Journal, and was a speaker at the Maine Conference for Jewish Life in 2015. Follow Frozen Chosen on facebook or visit my Web site for more writing and free music to download!