Don't worry; it's nothing to do with sheep! Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease is a highly contagious but fairly harmless viral condition. It is characterised by lots of small, itchy red spots or blisters on the hands and feet, and ulcers in the mouth. It usually clears up within a week.
It is extremely common amongst toddlers and younger children and mostly occurs in the summer or autumn. It is not serious and there is no treatment required, although a painkiller may be taken if the child is in extreme discomfort.
I do have a personal ability to write on this subject as I have suffered from it myself. I managed to catch it a few weeks after I started at University, aged 18. I dashed off to the student medical centre at the sudden (and it was sudden) appearance of these bright red, extremely itchy spots. The staff at the medical centre found it very amusing and delighted in telling me that it was most common in pre-schoolers. Their only advice on stopping it spreading was not to wash my dishes in the same water as my housemates.
So what is it like? Well, the thing that I remember was the extreme itchiness. I think that the soles of my feet itching were the worst part of it. There is not much you can do but keep the affected areas as cool as possible, so maybe flip-flops or something similar should be worn around the house until it has cleared up. Your child is likely to be miserable and grumpy, so a little sympathy is probably the best thing you can do for them.
You should always get a diagnosis from your doctor if your child has an unexplained rash, in case it is something more serious .
A child at my son's nursery has recently had it, and her doctor told her she could go into nursery as normal. Her mother, feeling that sending her daughter to mix with other kids when she had a contagious disease was not a good idea, kept her at home until it had cleared up. I think we all agreed with her.
About the Author: Jacqui O'Brien is the Editor of eParenting.