Herpangina is a relatively new childhood disease. It's only been around since the 1950s, but since then it's become a feature of the first few years of life. Uncomfortable but not dangerous, herpangina is a contagious disease that can spread like wildfire through a schoolroom or day care. A few precautionary measures can help slow its spread, though adults may already have immunity to the condition.
Herpangina is a viral condition that causes sores to form in the throat and mouth. In severe cases, sores can also appear on the feet and hands, giving the disease its other name--"hand, foot, and mouth disease." While it does have a similar name, herpangina isn't caused by a herpes virus, but by many other different types of viruses, the most common one being coxsackievirus A16. Herpangina mostly affects young children, but anyone can get it.
Herpangina symptoms include fever and a bad sore throat. The throat will be red and there will be tiny blisters resembling canker sores in the mouth. The sores may also be on the inside of the lips and in the throat. More severe cases will have these tiny blisters on the skin--on and around the lips and on the soles of the feet and palms of the hands. It's relatively common for herpangina blisters to spread this far--over half of herpangina cases do. Children tend to be understandably cranky, and suffer from diminished appetite as the sore throat makes it painful to eat. Symptoms usually persist for about a week.
Since herpangina is a virus, there's no way to "cure" it--you will have to wait until the body's immune system eliminates it. Until then, there are ways to make a herpangina patient more comfortable. Over-the-counter painkillers can help reduce pain and bring down fever. A non-irritating diet helps the patient eat and drink more. Milk and milk-based foods are particularly good (ice cream can help tempt the lowest appetite). It's especially important to make sure the patient gets enough to drink--in severe cases, IV fluids may have to be administered at hospital if the throat pain is too strong. Canker sore treatments can help ease herpangina sore pain.
Herpangina is definitely contagious! It's spread through saliva and through fecal matter. Unsurprisingly, herpangina is mostly spread from child to child in day cares and schools. If you are adult, you may be immune to herpangina--since most cases are caused by coxsackievirus A16, if you've had herpangina before you probably have some form of immunity. Still, you probably don't remember whether you've had herpangina or not, so it's probably best to take some preventive measures for yourself and to prevent spreading the condition to others.
Washing your hands, especially before preparing food or eating, can help keep you from catching herpangina. Teaching your children to wash their hands can help them from catching the virus as well and help prevent them from spreading it to other children. If your child has herpangina, it's best for him or her to stay at home until well.