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What is Herpangina?

By Dulce Corazon
Updated Feb 25, 2024
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Herpangina is an infection caused by coxsackie virus A, and is often characterized by the sudden onset of high fever, pain when swallowing, a sore throat, and the presence of smalls vesicles which eventually erupt to form whitish shallow ulcers in the mouth. The ulcers seen in herpangina are frequently located in the soft palate or roof of the mouth, tonsils, and uvula. Infection frequently occurs during the summer months, mostly affecting children between ages three to ten years old, with fewer incidence in adults and adolescents.

There are other viruses which can also cause herpangina, but not as often as coxsackie virus A. These include the enterovirus, coxsackie virus B, adenovirus, echovirus, and herpes simplex virus (HSV). The most common strains of coxsackie virus A causing herpangina in children are types 1 though 10, 22, 12 and 16.

The virus causing herpangina is present in the stool and respiratory fluids of affected children. Transmission of this virus to other children is mostly through the fecal-oral route, which means putting objects contaminated with infected stools in the mouth, and through droplet spread from sneezing and coughing. Once the coxsackie virus A enters the human body, it can stay inside to incubate for four to 14 days. Illness usually appears within four to six days after catching the virus.

Symptoms associated with the infection are backache, headache, weakness, loss of appetite, vomiting, drooling, and abdominal pain. Some infected children may not show any symptoms, but can still spread the infection to others. Treatment for herpangina often includes rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and proper diet. Medications are usually given for fever and pain relief.

Herpangina is mostly a mild viral infection where infected children usually recover within a week without any complications. There are rare cases, however, where manifestations of the infection are more severe. Affected children in these cases present with some neurological problems and meningitis or inflammation of the brain. Deaths associated with this viral infection have also been reported in some infants between the ages of six to 11 months old.

Preventive measures are mostly recommended by health experts to limit the spread of the virus in the community. Regular practice of proper hand washing is a necessary habit for children to develop in order to avoid infections with this and other viruses and harmful organisms. Awareness of the occurrence of the disease in the neighborhood is one way to diagnose the disease early and curtail its spread.

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Discussion Comments
By Oceana — On Jul 26, 2011

A paranoid mother in our neighborhood pulled her son out of class for the semester after an outbreak of herpangina. She considered it an absolutely nasty illness, and she did not want her son associated with it.

Kids kept contracting it for about a month, so she ended up home-schooling him for the rest of that year. He missed out on third grade because of her fears. Not only that - he ended up getting herpangina anyway!

The paper boy had come to the door for payment, and he happened to have the disease. He sneezed on the boy, and he came down with it.

By kylee07drg — On Jul 25, 2011

My nephew developed herpangina at the age of 8. His mother thought he had strep throat because of the whitish ulcers in his mouth. She decided on home remedies instead of taking him to the doctor.

She made him drink orange juice and cranberry juice. She was trying to pack his little body with the vitamin C she thought it needed to fight the infection. This just made the ulcers worse. He would cry out in pain with each sip.

After three days of this, she gave up and took him in to his pediatrician, who told her that she had made his condition worse. She felt very guilty, but she also felt relieved to know that he was going to be all right.

By Perdido — On Jul 25, 2011

I got herpangina when I was 23, and I thought it was the flu. I seemed to ache all over, and my very skin hurt. I felt weak, as though my muscles were turning to jelly. I got a fever, which added to the misery. The sore throat was unbearable.

When I saw the ulcers on my hands and in my mouth, I figured it must be something other than the flu. My doctor took one look at them and diagnosed me with herpangina.

He prescribed strong Motrin for the pain and fever. He told me to drink cold milk and eat popsicles, while avoiding hot drinks and citrus fruit. He also said to eat ice cream and stay away from spicy or fried foods.

I did all of this, and I got better in about five days.

By lighth0se33 — On Jul 24, 2011

My friend’s four-year-old son got herpangina because he had a nasty habit of playing with feces. Before she could stop him, he had reached into a public toilet and grabbed some.

Though she thoroughly washed his hands, it was too late. Within a few days, he had developed the illness. He got sores not only in his throat, but also on his hands, feet, and butt. These ulcers were whitish-gray with a red border, and they really hurt.

She took him to the doctor at the first sign of a fever, because she feared what dreaded disease he might have developed from playing with feces. She was relieved to find out that the condition would go away with good diet choices and pain relievers to bring down the fever.

By ceilingcat — On Jul 23, 2011

@JaneAir - Well, people do have a tendency to get more upset when kids are involved. But, like the article said, this illness is transmitted through stool, not sex!

I'm always amazed at how many illnesses proper hand washing can prevent. I know it's probably hard for daycare centers to make all the children wash their hands properly, but for their health, they really should try!

By JaneAir — On Jul 23, 2011

There was an outbreak of the herpangina virus at a local day care center awhile ago. Since the name sounds so similar to herpes, some of the mothers were really up in arms thinking their kids had contracted an STD. I remember hearing a few people talk about having the day care center investigated for child abuse!

I'm telling you, knowledge is power. If any of those moms had actually taken a second to do an internet search or ask their doctor they could have found out the truth!

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