Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease as an Adult — The Gory Details

Adults don't get HFMD, they said. It will be fine, they said.

I hadn’t even heard of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease till I was pregnant the first time. Someone told me a friend’s baby had it. “No way,” I said. “Only cows get Foot and Mouth.”

It’s true — only livestock get Foot and Mouth Disease. However, Hand, Foot and Mouth is caused by different viruses and mostly affects young children. Adults don’t usually get it — so they say. This lulls you into a false sense of security. Adults can get it. And it sucks.

But HFMD causes a complex progression of symptoms that are a little different in everyone. Not to fear — I have four case studies right under my roof. Here’s the timeline of our outbreak:

DAY 0 — Monday, June 16

Walking home from dinner, we decided to let our two-year-old, Max, run around the spray park near our house. He’s not that into the fountains, but we figure we might as well keep trying — the spray park is right near our house. This time, there was water pooling on one side of the fountain — likely because the drains were blocked. He splashed in the puddles, along with about a dozen other kids.

In retrospect, that pooled water was a public health disaster waiting to happen. You’ve got kids playing in the fountain, peeing and pooping in their swim diapers, which was rinsing into the puddled water at their feet. We even noticed a princess band-aid floating in the water. A little girl fished it out with her fingers. We gave Max (2yo) a bath the second he got home — we should never have let him play there in the first place.

We’re almost certain that this is where Max (2yo) got HFMD. He played with other kids the week before coming down with it, but we know all those kids and none of them got sick. If he got it from kids, this is where he got it.


DAY 1 — Tuesday, June 17

My husband Eric took Max (2yo) and our six-month-old Beck to a playgroup, but Max was scared of the host’s dog and didn’t play with any other kids. This was probably a good thing — none of those kids got sick.

Max (2yo) was really warm that afternoon and seemed uncomfortable. I gave him some ibuprofen, which he threw up. That was the first time in his life that he’s actually thrown up — so of course he was in our bed and had just eaten a half-pint of blueberries. Cleaning up that mess distracted me and I forgot to take his temperature. He seemed grumpy that night, but not feverish.

DAY 2 — Wednesday, June 18

Max (2yo) still seemed grumpy, but didn’t have any other symptoms till that afternoon, when he felt warm. I took his temperature and it was 101.5 F, so I gave him some ibuprofen. He didn’t sleep well that night either, thus beginning our week of sleep dep.

DAY 3 — Thursday, June 19

We noticed that Max (2yo) had a rash on his mouth, hands and feet. He didn’t have a fever anymore. That’s when we decided that he probably had HFMD. We took him to the doctor and she confirmed it. We gave him ice cream, bland foods, and lots of water. We tried to keep him away from the baby.

Max (2yo) didn’t sleep well at all that night. Eric slept on the floor in his room for most of the night (which beats sleeping in the toddler bed, if only by a little).

DAY 4 — Friday, June 20

Beck (6mo) had a fever in the wee hours of the morning, so we suspected he had HFMD too. He didn’t sleep well either. We decided not to take him to the doctor that day because she already told us our treatment options — there wasn’t much to do besides keeping hydrated.

Max (2yo)‘s rash got worse. He kept eating bland foods, water and ice cream. He was still pretty grumpy. He took a nap that was over four hours long.

I noticed a tickle in the back of my (adult) throat, but thought I was being a hypochondriac — adults don’t get HFMD, right? Then I got a headache and started feeling achy all over, like I had the flu. So, yeah, adults do get HFMD.

Bedtime had become a joke in our household. Eric slept in Max (2yo)‘s room. I slept with Beck (6mo). (I’m using the term “slept” in broad sense here to mean an activity that may or may not include actual sleeping.)

DAY 5 — Saturday, June 21

I (adult) woke up with the kind of sore throat where you take a bite of a seemingly innocuous food (e.g., a banana) and realize that it would be easier to spit it out than to attempt swallowing it. I was still achy all over, but at least my headache was mostly gone.

Beck (6mo)‘s rash began to develop on his hands, feet and mouth. He had a fever in the morning, which went away pretty quickly. He is still exclusively breastfed and he wasn’t nursing well, probably because sucking and swallowing were hurting his mouth and throat. I started pumping after feedings to keep up my supply (or rather, I rested my miserable head on the kitchen counter and let the pump do its thing). We also fed Beck drops of cold breast milk with an oral syringe so he wouldn’t get dehydrated. Babies, right?

Max (2yo)‘s rash got a little worse and he continued to be picky about food. We had milkshakes and took a walk, but he wanted me to carry him for part of it, probably because the rash on his feet hurt. We watched a lot of TV — much more than I would have preferred (we aren’t usually a big TV household. By “TV”, I mean streaming kids’ videos). Everyone was so miserable that we couldn’t manage much else.

Eric (adult) started to get flu-like symptoms — he was achy and had a headache, and he got a tickle in his throat.

Nighttime wasn’t quite as bad as the night before — Max (2yo) slept through most of the night and Beck (6mo) seemed to eat better when he was groggy. We adults both got some sleep — yay!

DAY 6 — Sunday, June 22

I (adult) woke up with painful blisters on my feet. My flu-like symptoms had mostly resided, but I still had the same horrible sore throat.

Eric (adult) had a killer sore throat and was still achy.

Max (2yo) seemed to be feeling physically better, but his rash was still the same. He had the rash on his butt now too, just in case we weren’t horrified enough.

Beck (6mo) seemed to be eating better — I only had to feed him with the oral syringe once. But his rash was worse, and had also, terrifyingly, spread to his butt.

We went for a drive in the country so Max could see some cows and horses. We couldn’t go anywhere else because we didn’t want to infect anyone, and we couldn’t walk anywhere because my feet hurt (and I’m pretty sure Max’s hurt too). We drove through Dunkin’ Donuts for milkshakes. Later in the day, we made some “snow” by putting ice in the blender and I fed some to Beck with a spoon. I also gave Max a bowl of “snow” and a spoon — he just played with it, but he loved it. And we watched some TV.

Max (2yo) slept through most of the night. Beck (6mo) woke up several times, but he either went easily back to sleep or nursed back to sleep. He seemed to be eating just fine. My (adult) feet, however, began to itch and burn horribly, which kept me up for hours. The only thing that kept me sane was a good book. Eric (adult) slept well and I was rightfully jealous.

DAY 7 — Monday, June 23

I (adult) had a terrible sore throat again. My feet hurt, burned and itched so bad I was limping.

Eric (adult)‘s sore throat was worse, but his aching had mostly gone away.

Max (2yo) and Beck (6mo) seemed to be in a pretty good mood, but their rashes weren’t any better. Max was eating a little more (but still being very picky) and Beck was nursing well enough that I didn’t need to give him anything with the syringe.

We went for a drive to get (take-out) shakes and veggie burgers (and a grilled cheese for Max) at a burger place. We drove to a park by the river and Eric got out and walked Max around. I waited in the car while Beck slept. My feet hurt too bad to walk. We didn’t watch any TV today (achievement!).

DAY 8 — Tuesday, June 24

My (adult) throat hurt less today. My itching stopped and it didn’t hurt to walk anymore. The kids (2yo and 6mo) seemed to be feeling fine. They still had the rash, but it was starting to clear up. Eric (adult) noticed a few bumps on his hands and feet, but they didn’t hurt or itch much. He was feeling a lot better.

All this meant I had to go back to work. Boo. (I work from home, so I wasn’t going to infect my colleagues or anything, and I was still able to bear witness to these captivating events.)

DAY 9 — Wednesday, June 25

This is where I’m going to stop. My throat still hurts a little, and I’ve still got some of the rash, but everything’s clearing up. Same with Eric and the kids — the disease is on the retreat.

Unfortunately, my mom and sister both seem to have this now. It seems like they don’t have it as bad as I did. Really, this disease might not be so bad without having small, sick children demanding milkshakes, keeping you awake, and generally sucking your will to heal.

Oh yeah, and our toenails might fall out. I’ll keep you posted.


EDIT TO ADD: It’s true — some of Max (2yo) and Beck (6mo)‘s fingernails and toenails fell out a few weeks later. So, that’s a thing. Fortunately, it didn’t seem to bother them much.


UPDATE: I updated this post to highlight everyone’s ages — hopefully this will help to sort out who is who!


Image credit: Photo by Flickr user PeterVas. Meme text added by me. The original and edited photo are available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.