Saturday, October 21, 2006

What is Coxsackie?

At least once, probably several times, in the first months or year of your baby's development, you will receive a call that sounds something like this. “Bob and I just wanted to call and apologize. We are really, really sorry. You see we just took Junior to the pediatrician and he has Chicken Pox. We wanted to let you know since your baby and ours were together the other day and…” Such a call can be alarming, since it indicates that, unbeknown to you and despite your best efforts to avoid it, your baby was exposed to something contagious. Now you will have to do your research and begin watching for symptoms. If you are like Erin and I you may even get a little paranoid as you suddenly start interpreting otherwise normal behavior as symptoms.

It is bad enough to become aware that your baby may be facing a bout with a well known contagion like Chicken Pox. But, it is quite a different matter if the dreaded call announces that your baby has been exposed to something you have never heard of. This happened to us just the other day and we were petrified to find that our baby was at risk for contracting “Coxsackie”. Oh no, not Coxsackie!? Wait a second, I have never heard of it. You sure it isn’t Pox Sackie, or Sackie Pox? In any event, it certainly sounds dangerous! Who names these childhood diseases anyway? Actually, this disease is more commonly referred to as “Hand-foot-and-mouth Disease”, which is no less bothersome than to say Coxsackie. We fired up Google, determined to find out as much as we could about this mystery ailment. Here is the scoop:

What is Coxsackie? Coxsackie is a collection of closely related viruses that was first isolated and identified in 1948 in a small river town in New York State, USA named, ironically, Coxsackie. (Thus it's exotic sounding moniker.) Coxsackie is very contagious and, though babies and young children are most at risk, anyone can contract it. This virus belongs to a family called enteroviruses. This is a fancy word for a microscopic invader that enters and then sets up shop in the body through the gastrointestinal tract. Other enteroviruses include poliovirus and echovirus. These viruses have the ability over time to mutate into other forms or strains, which is why they reemerge every so often resulting in outbreaks among populations that have not established any form of immunity to them. In the case of Coxsackie, the mutation can be relatively slow and therefore it appears to produce a new strain, or “model”, every two to five years. Scientists refer to this natural phenomenon as “genetic drift”.

The Coxsackie virus, like most other viruses, does its damage by confusing the body’s antigen recognition system and defense mechanisms. Specifically, the body reacts to the virus' presence by sending out specially programmed antibodies that act like little virus-seeking missiles to destroy it. This is usually a good thing and in most cases the infection is contained and limited in its scope. The problem lies in the fact that the Coxsackie virus is capable of mimicking the protein structure of certain vital tissues in the body including the heart muscle. So in some cases the little virus-seeking missles can wind up attacking not just the virus, but also the vital body tissues that have become it's unfortunate host.

What are the symptoms that your baby may have contracted Coxsackie? The symptoms include flu like symptoms including fever, head and muscle aches and perhaps a rash. A mild sore throat is usual, accompanied sometimes by nausea or abdominal pain. Some children will show only very mild or no symptoms at all if they are infected by Coxsackie. In many cases, it is brushed off as being a non-specific runny nose. So you may only suspect based on a parents "intuition".

Some children develop small painful blisters in their mouth, on the tongue and inside their cheeks, as well as on the palms and soles of the feet. There may be painful blisters or ulcers in the back of the throat known as herpangia. These would be located on the tonsils and the soft fleshy part on the roof of the mouth. Some victims may develop chest pain when breathing.

Some symptoms may indicate that your baby has come into contact with one of the more aggressive forms of the virus. If your baby exhibits any of the following symptoms, medical help should be sought as soon as possible: fever, difficulty feeding, low appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, difficulty breathing, sleeplessness, red swollen watery eyes, sores inside the mouth or on the skin, or severe muscle pain in the chest or abdomen.

What can I do if I think my baby has Coxsackie? It is advisable to take your little one to a pediatrician if any combination of these symptoms occur. Even if you suspect that your child has contracted a mild strain of the virus, it is best to have your doctor examine them to exclude other, more dangerous, conditions which may produce similar symptoms.

Most children recover completely from Coxsackie after a few days of rest. The most effective treatment includes rest, plenty of fluids, and any action which eases the painful symptoms of the illness. However, your doctor may suggest other things as well. Unfortunatly, there is no vaccine or antibiotic that is effective against viruses. So you will be faced with waiting anxiously, keeping your child as comfortable as possible, as the virus runs it's course and your child's body progresses to recuperation. During this period, it is important to keep your baby away from other children. A baby with Coxsackie is most contagious during the first week that they are sick.

You will find some other suggested treatments or "comfort tools" in the recommended reading list below.

What is the best way to prevent my baby from contracting Coxsackie? Enteroviruses are very hardy and stubborn. They can survive for several days outside the human body, even in frozen outdoor conditions. They are spread through contact with saliva, mucous, or the feces of another infected individual. Diligence in hand washing and good hygiene are the best forms of prevention. Careful handwashing after changing diapers and before preparing food can help stop the spread.

Where can I found out more about Coxsackie?

For some fascinating reading on viruses, check out this site:

1 comment:

zhanna said...

my little guy just got diagnosed with this... unfortunately for us he got it right around the same time he got his shots so we thought it was the effects of the vaccine! he had a fever ranging between 101-103.5 for 3 days. it was not fun at all...