By Dr. Sue Hubbard

For the News-Gazette

The mother of a patient recently forwarded an email with the subject line: “potential exposure to Herpangina.” In the body of the email was

the following:

Dear Parents,

We want to inform you that a case of Herpangina disease has been reported for a child in room 112. This is a contagious disease that is spread by direct contact with another person or contaminated objects. Herpangina is an illness caused by a virus, characterized by small, blister-like bumps or ulcers that appear in the mouth, usually in the back of throat or the roof of the mouth. The child often has a high fever with the illness. We have attached further information about this common childhood illness, published by Children’s Hospital in Boston. Our teachers are carefully disinfecting their room to help prevent further spread of

the disease.

The mother of the child who sent me the email was “freaked” out and “worried” about sending her child back to pre-school.

My question is this, when did it become a “rule” to notify parents in a pre-school or day care setting that there were viral illnesses circulating? It certainly seems unnecessary to me to send notification of every childhood illness that occurs and for most of my families only serves to

cause anxiety.

Some of the schools in our area post a sign on the entry that says something to the effect: “There are cases of diarrhea, RSV, hand foot and mouth and fevers being reported in children that attend this school.” Really, is it that surprising or necessary? Seeing that many of the numerous viral illnesses that children get these days are spread via respiratory droplets and contact with surfaces, such as toys and tables that everyone touches (computers too), children are exposed to things all of the time.   I understand notifying parents of illnesses, such as meningitis, measles, mumps, even chickenpox that are infectious and may be serious or life threatening. Thankfully, there are very few cases of these illnesses to report, now that the majority of children receive vaccines to these diseases.

By putting these emails, texts and notices out for every parent to become alarmed and then to come to the doctor out of concern that their child “may get sick even before they have a symptom” serves no purpose. Herpangina and hand, foot and mouth are very similar viral illnesses, and both are caused by enteroviruses. It is at times hard to distinguish one illness from the other. But, with that being said, the treatment is solely symptomatic. In other words, treat the fever, make your child comfortable and don’t let them go back to school until they are fever free for 24 hours.

Lastly, your child is going to catch a lot of these viruses, no matter what you do when they go out to play, shop or go to school. Each time they catch a viral illness it actually helps them to build antibody in order that their immune system may get stronger and stronger. I think the better note is: “As winter comes, children will get more coughs, colds and viral infections. If you think you child is not feeling well or running a fever, please keep them home from school for the day. It is just a normal part of childhood. We don’t need any more anxiety in this world.”

Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award-winning pediatrician, medical editor and media host. 

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