Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is so prevalent now in Malaysia. Is this only a disease of childhood, or do adults get it too?

HFMD is usually common in childhood, especially in children younger than five years old.

But sometimes, it can occur in older children, and even adults.

It is caused by the coxsackievirus and is generally mild.

The main symptoms are sores in your child’s mouth, and a rash on the hands and feet.

If you should develop these symptoms, especially in these endemic times, you should seek medical attention immediately, no matter what age you are.

What are the common childhood infections?

The commonest childhood infections are:

• Chickenpox

• Coughs, colds

• Ear infections

• Croup

• Measles

• Mumps

In fact, it is common for a child younger than eight years old to get as many as eight or more colds a year.

So, don’t be overly concerned that your child seems to be sicker than other children!

My child gets colds quite frequently. I always have to take leave to look after her. She sneezes and coughs a lot, and sometimes, she vomits after a bout of coughing. Should I be taking her to the doctor? It distresses me.

Coughs in children are usually the result of the common cold.

It will usually resolve by itself within five to seven days, and is not serious, especially if your child is eating, drinking and breathing normally.

You don’t even have to bring your child to the doctor if this is so.

However, if your child’s cough is very bad and does not resolve itself by seven days, then you should bring him or her to see the doctor.

Coughs like this can be caused by diseases other than the common cold virus, such as croup, whooping cough, childhood asthma, pneumonia, or even by swallowing a foreign object, such as a fishbone or a peanut.

Some of these diseases can be accompanied by high fever, breathlessness, restlessness, tiredness, a cough that is worse at night, or if your child seems very anxious and won’t eat/drink/sleep.

If so, take your child to a paediatrician immediately.

And if your child has difficulty breathing, don’t wait – take your child to the hospital straightaway.

What about a sore throat? My child doesn’t have a cough or runny nose, but he is always getting a sore throat, especially after he eats a lot of chocolates and ice-cream. Does he need antibiotics?

Most childhood sore throats are caused by viruses, including the common cold virus or the flu virus. Antibiotics would not help in these cases.

Sore throat is usually the precursor to a cold. Your child’s throat may feel dry and sore for a day or two before the actual sneezing and coughing starts.

Most sore throats clear up on their own after a few days.

However, if the sore throat persists for more than four days, and if your child has a high temperature, it may be due to something more serious, like a bacteria.

This might spread further to the lungs, so it’s best to take your child to the paediatrician immediately.

Why do children get so many colds compared to teenagers and adults? Mine seems to get a cold every month!

Young children don’t have immunity yet to a lot of viruses that are out there in the community. That’s why they are easily infected.

As they age, they gradually build up immunity and get fewer colds and coughs.

This is all programmed by your body’s immune system, with lymphocytes (specialised white blood cells) that programme themselves to remember the shape of a certain virus once the body has been exposed to it.

So, the next time that same virus appears, the body can mount a very quick and effective response before the virus can even infect you.

Children who go to kindergarten, playgrounds or school, also tend to be exposed to a lot more children, who may come with all kinds of viruses.

Oh no! Is sending my child to kindergarten or school a good thing then, or should I consider home-schooling?

You cannot protect your child in a fortress. Kindergartens and schools are extremely valuable in providing your children not only education, but also interactive play and socialising.

Home-schooled children tend to lack the social aspects of this provision, which is critically important to help your children adapt to the adult world when they grow up. Remember, in many jobs, EQ is more important than IQ.

Moreover, building up immunity is necessary in a person living in a community.

So, it’s good to get mild diseases that cannot be prevented by vaccination, live through them and build up your resistance this way.

Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health, computers and entertainment. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.