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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — With the dog days of summer at hand, U.S. military medical officials want to put the lid on a viral illness sometimes seen in children under age 10 this time of year.

Hand, foot and mouth disease can occur worldwide and is "moderately contagious," the 374th Medical Group stated in an outbreak advisory posted recently on the Commander’s Access Channel at Yokota. It’s spread through direct contact with infectious germs in nose and throat secretions, saliva, blister fluid and stool.

It’s popping up now all over Asia, including Japan and China, according to Maj. Nicole Avci, the 374th Aerospace Medicine Squadron’s Public Health Flight commander. As of Tuesday, there have been eight suspected cases documented at Yokota — all in children 8 and younger. "HF&M disease is a common childhood illness, not unlike chickenpox," she said Tuesday. "In most cases, this illness is self-limiting and only causes discomfort for the infected individuals. Only in very rare cases does (it) have more serious manifestations."

The disease can be caused by several intestinal viruses, she added, but enterovirus 71 and coxsackie A16 virus are the most frequent.

According to the advisory, warning signs include severe headache, stiff neck, difficulty breathing and turning blue around the lips. Infected children may also exhibit uncharacteristic behavior or be excessively sleepy at odd times. Like many other common childhood viruses, it can result in "flulike" symptoms such as fever and sore throat, Avci said.

"Unlike other illnesses, HF&M causes a characteristic skin rash — with flat or raised red spots, sometimes with blisters — in the mouth, palms of the hands and soles of the feet," she said. "These blisters may turn into small ulcers, and generally resolve on their own within a few days."

In extreme instances, it could lead to severe complications, including meningitis, encephalitis or myocarditis. Avci said children with symptoms of illness consistent with HF&M should be seen by a health care provider immediately.

The 374th Medical Group’s Public Health Office says children who have been sick should not attend base child development centers or other group settings until the fever and blisters have disappeared and they have been cleared to return.

"At home, frequent hand washing and cleaning surfaces with a chlorine-based disinfectant can decrease the risk of transmission," Avci said. "Also, avoid sharing items such as cups and utensils with individuals ill or recovering from HF&M disease."


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