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September 18, 2012

Severe strain of childhood virus emerges

(Continued)

Researchers hypothesize that A6 started circulating out of season due to last year's mild winter, the fourth-warmest U.S. winter on record.

Regardless of the strain, HFMD can be an unnerving diagnosis for a new parent to hear, if only for the name. (Many parents also confuse it with foot and mouth disease, a highly infectious disease that affects livestock.)

Erin Pfiffner's son Julian came down with HFMD in April, when he was 14 months old. Pfiffner, who lives in Fairfax, Va., had seen a sign on the door to Julian's day care center warning parents that the illness was going around.

"When I first heard it, I thought it was the same thing as mad cow disease," Pfiffner says.

A few days later, Julian's fever shot up to 103 degrees and he got a rash all over his body: hands, feet, mouth, chest, head and face. For the first few days, he rested and spent most of the time playing in the family's basement, where it was coolest and eating frozen peaches and yogurt to soothe his mouth and throat. He was a little out of sorts and had trouble sleeping, but it wasn't as bad as she feared it would be, Pfiffner says.

"All my other mom friends had worse horror stories about the rash and fever," she says. "One said it was the worst week of her parenting experience so far."

Treatment for HFMD is similar to the flu: rest, drinking plenty of fluids and taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen for the fever. Prevention includes good hygiene, frequent hand washing, and cleaning shared toys and surfaces. If someone is sick, he or she should stay home until both the fever and the sores clear up.

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