Herpangina: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatments

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HerpanginaKids are like little illness factories. We love them, but because their bodies haven’t established large numbers of antibodies yet, they tend to get sick.

And because of daycare and or school, when one kid gets sick, they all get sick. Not only that, children often get things that adults don’t get—or at least illnesses that adults rarely get.

Take herpangina, for example. There’s a good chance that you’ve never even heard of herpangina, but it is common among kids. And if by some chance you haven’t developed the antibodies to fight it off, it can affect you too. We’ll take a look at herpangina causes, herpangina symptoms, and herpangina treatments.

Herpangina Definition

The first question you might have is, what is herpangina? Herpangina is a viral infection that comes about due to enteroviruses (which most often originate in the gastrointestinal tract). Herpangina is similar to hand-foot-mouth disease (HFM), and for the most part, it’s a childhood illness that typically affects kids between 3 and 10 years of age.

Older children and adults usually develop the appropriate antibodies against herpangina as they mature. Is herpangina contagious? Unfortunately, it is terribly contagious, and it’s not uncommon for it to get passed around from child to child. Luckily, herpangina can be treated. But, in order to know that your child needs treatment, you need to be able to recognize the symptoms of herpangina.

Herpangina Causes

Herpangina is caused by a group of viruses known as Coxsackie group A viruses. These virus, as we previously noted, are related to hand-foot-mouth disease as evidenced by the blisters that appear in the mouth. However, they aren’t the same thing.

Herpangina is mainly spread through saliva and feces. As unpleasant as it may be to think about, the main reason the virus spreads so quickly among young children is because they tend to have poor hygiene habits, especially when it comes to things like coughing and washing their hands after using the bathroom.

Consider the following scenario: a child carrying the virus at school uses the toilet and doesn’t wash his hands. The same child later sticks his finger in a classmate’s mouth. That classmate coughs on yet another child’s sandwich at lunchtime. The virus dominoes can start to fall rather rapidly with kids.

Herpangina Symptoms

So, you think that your child might have herpangina but you’re not sure. What should you be on the lookout for? What are the symptoms of herpangina? The first batch of symptoms might be confusing as they are very similar to other common childhood illnesses. Those symptoms can include:

• Sore throat
• Difficulty in swallowing
• Headache
• Neck pain
• Swollen lymph glands
• Sudden onset of fever
• Loss of appetite
• Drooling and vomiting in infants

If you were going by those symptoms alone, herpangina could easily be mistaken for things like the flu. There is one tell-tale sign of herpangina. Herpangina creates small ulcers (usually light gray in color) at the back of the mouth and throat. These ulcers tend to appear two days after the illness takes hold. That being said, if you aren’t sure if your child has herpangina, it’s probably time to go to the doctor.

How to Diagnose Herpangina

Taking your child to the doctor can be hard but in the case of herpangina, you may want to make sure that’s what affects your child. The doctor will ask about the child’s recent medical history in order to rule out certain other illness issues. After a review of the medical history, a physical exam should be performed.

With the presence of the mouth ulcers, the diagnosis should be fairly quick. Once the doctor has diagnosed the child with herpangina, treatment can begin.

Herpangina Treatment

The main goal of treatment with herpangina is to treat the symptoms and hopefully lessen their effects. Remember that herpangina is a viral infection, so it will eventually clear up on its own. The infection only lasts for 10 days or so. In the meantime, you can try the following in an effort to get through the symptoms.

• Rest. The simplest thing you can do for any viral infection is to get some rest. Allow the body’s energy to go toward the healing process.

• Medications like Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen) can be used every four hours to keep any pain and discomfort in check as well as help with a fever.

• Over-the-counter topical anesthetic throat sprays might be able to keep the pain of a sore throat at bay.

• There are some prescription anesthetics for the mouth and throat such as xylocaine or benzocaine, which a doctor may prescribe if a sore throat is extremely bad.

• One method your child may rather enjoy is the use of cold drinks and substances to keep the pain of ulcers and the sore throat down. Popsicles and ice cream are favorites.

Beyond those, just make sure that the child is drinking a lot of fluids, especially if the child has a fever.

Is Herpangina Contagious?

As we previously mentioned, herpangina is quite contagious—at least among young children. Most adults have built up a strong immune system that can fight off the enterovirus and kill it before it does anything to them. A child’s immature system often needs more time to eliminate the virus, which means more opportunity for the virus to spread.

If one kid gets it, another kid is most likely responsible. And, there is a good chance that your child will pass it to one or more others before the virus is even diagnosed. For these reasons it’s a good idea to keep your child at home until the virus is cleared out of their system, so that the dispersal will be minimized.

Tough It Out

Herpangina will be a rough few days for your child. It makes the throat sore, can cause a fever and just make their life generally annoying. Unfortunately, there is no magic cure. The child is just going to have to try and tough it out. But luckily, you can help out the process with some over-the-counter medications, rest, time away from school, and some popsicles. Given the last two, your kid might not find the situation that bad.

Dr. Mary, “Herpangina – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Contagious, Pictures,” Bye Bye Doctor; http://byebyedoctor.com/herpangina/, last accessed June 14, 2017.
Perlsteing, D., “Herpangina,” Medicinenet; http://www.medicinenet.com/herpangina/page2.htm, last accessed June 14, 2017.
Pietrangelo, A., “Herpangina,” Healthline, January 4, 2016; http://www.healthline.com/health/herpangina#overview1, last accessed June 14, 2017.