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Coxsackievirus scary, rarely deadly

Published 1:24 pm, Monday, September 23, 2013
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The health concern: A viral illness, common among children, called coxsackievirus. It's a hand, foot and mouth disease, most common in children younger than 5, and its symptoms include a high fever and blister-like sores in the mouth.

Who's talking about it?: Young parents, according to a friend and source of mine who works with moms and pregnant women. She said the illness is a common discussion point among the population she serves -- many of whom are worried about the illness and the impact it could have on their little ones. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, coxsackievirus usually starts with fever, poor appetite, a vague feeling of being unwell, and a sore throat. The sores usually develop a day or two after the fever starts, and a skin rash can develop as well.

Coxsackievirus is one of a group of illnesses called non-polio enteroviruses, which cause about 10 to 15 million infections in the United States each year. Coxsackievirus in particularly is fairly widespread and far from a new illness, said Dr. Rachel Sheiman, of Penfield Pediatrics in Fairfield. "Most children get this illness," said Sheiman, whose practice is affiliated with St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport. "It's common."

But it's still worth talking about, if only because we're smack in the middle of prime time for coxsackie virus, which mainly strikes in summer and early fall (though, in some warmer countries, it can strike year-round). Also, as my friend suggested and doctors confirm, it can be somewhat scary.

"Kids that have severe symptoms can be really uncomfortable," said Dr. Rosemary Klenk, practicing pediatric partner with New England Pediatrics, with offices in New Canaan and Stamford.

Should you worry?: In general, no, though there are exceptions. Klenk, whose practice is affiliated with Stamford Hospital, said children afflicted with coxsackievirus rarely have serious complications. These can include inflammation of the brain or viral meningitis. One more common complication comes from the fact that some children with the illness don't want to eat or drink anything because it hurts too much, Sheiman said. "The kids that have it really bad can be at risk for dehydration," she said.

Severity of the illness also depends on age, said Dr. Toni Salvatore, medical director of Greenwich Hospital's pediatric outpatient center. "Obviously, the younger you are, the worse you do," she said.

There aren't any vaccines for the illness, and doctors suggested treating the virus symptomatically. For instance, over the counter pain medication can be taken to ease the sores' impact -- though the CDC advises against giving aspiring to children, so ask your doctor what your options are. A parent's best bet is preventing coxsackievirus altogether, using many of the same tactics you'd use to protect a child from flu or another contagious disease. Wash hands frequently, disinfect surfaces and avoid close contact and sharing utensils with anyone who has the illness.

The good news is that, in many cases, children get better within seven to 10 days. "There's really not much reason to worry," Klenk said.

acuda@ctpost.com; 203-330-6290; twitter.com/AmandaCuda; http://blog.ctnews.com/whatthehealth/