Herpangina is an infection that causes sores at the top and back of the mouth, sore throat and fever. Herpangina is caused by a family of viruses, known as coxsackieviruses, which live in the human digestive tract. It is a highly contagious condition that is often spread through poor hand washing after using the bathroom, contact with surfaces contaminated by human feces and sneezing and coughing. It is most common in children ages 3-10, but outbreaks are higher in infants and children under age 5 because the virus spreads easily in group settings like schools, day care centers and summer camps. It most commonly occurs in summer months. In most cases, herpangina causes mild flu-like symptoms that usually go away without treatment. In some rare cases, more serious infections can occur.

The most telltale signs of herpangina include:

Since there is no vaccine to prevent a coxsackievirus infection, hand washing is the best defense. Remind everyone in your family to wash their hands frequently with soap and water, particularly after using the toilet (especially in public places), after changing a diaper, before meals, and before preparing food. Shared toys or equipment in schools and childcare centers should be cleaned daily with a bleach-based disinfectant because the virus can live on these objects for days. Keep kids home from school or day care for a few days to avoid the spread of infection. The duration of an infection varies, but most clear up within a week.

There is no test to diagnose herpangina. Doctors can usually diagnose it upon physical examination. Depending upon a child’s symptoms and discomfort, acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be given to relieve a fever or any minor aches and pains. Stick with foods that won’t irritate the throat, like ice cream or popsicles and keep kids well hydrated. Avoid acidic fruit juices or hot or spicy foods that could aggravate mouth sores. Doctors may also recommend gargling with cool water or using topical oral anesthetics for mouth pain.

Call the doctor immediately if your child develops any of the following symptoms:

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