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.