Spring Has Sprung

I know Daylight Savings Time (DST) has its fans and foes, but life has been so much different since the time change and the advent of Spring! 9-5’ers now have a life after work, and hopefully the bitter sting of winter has passed. Winter wheat is out and grass is greening. However, with the good comes some health concerns, so this month let’s discuss a potpourri of childhood illnesses and other health and safety concerns
Childhood illnesses — Erythema Infectiosum (a.k.a. Fifth Disease or “Slapped Cheek” Syndrome) is a usually mild viral illness in children caused by Parvovirus B19, common in the spring. It begins with mild nonspecific symptoms like fever and runny nose. A few days later a characteristic redness of the cheeks (as if the child’s cheeks had been slapped) appears. An itchy, lacy rash follows on the trunk and extremities, and even on the bottoms of the feet. Although symptoms usually resolve in about a week, the illness can last several weeks. Although Fifth Disease is more common in children, adults can get it and are more likely to complain of painful joints for several weeks. The disease is caught by exposure to respiratory secretions from an infected person in the first stages of the illness. It can also be transmitted by blood, and pregnant women can pass the virus to their unborn child. Once you’ve had Fifth Disease, you usually are protected and do not get it again. Treatment is symptomatic, and the disease eventually goes away spontaneously in healthy people. Immuno-compromised people (e.g. cancer, leukemia, HIV) are at greater risk of severe complications. Prevention involves the usual — frequent hand washing, avoiding persons who are ill, and staying home from work or school when ill.
Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is also common in the warmer months, extending into the fall. This is another usually mild viral disease, this one being caused by one of the family of picornaviuses, the most common being Coxsackievirus A16 and Enterovirus 71. The illness is most common in children, starts with fever, fatigue, and sore throat, and usually involves a rash on the hands and feet, with painful sores in the mouth. Transmission is by way of nose and throat fluids, and even via ingested fluid containing feces in recreational water (e.g. insufficiently chlorinated swimming pools). Like Fifth Disease, treatment of HFMD is symptomatic, and prevention is general good health and hygiene. HFMD should not be confused with Hoof and Mouth Disease, a disease of livestock.
As the weather tempts us to get outside more, next month we will discuss tick-borne infectious diseases. These are also common in the warmer months when ticks and people are outside and active. Besides infectious diseases, warmer weather should alert us to other dangers to our health. It’s not too early to use sunscreen with a high SPF. Each year people get taken by surprise by the just-beginning-to-warm temperatures and end up with a serious sunburn from being outside too long with insufficient skin protection.
Of course, camping is a favorite activity in the warmer months, and we all see raccoons in campgrounds and other wooded areas. Did you know that those cute raccoons can carry the roundworm Baylisascaris? Ingestion of soil (children seem to like eating dirt!) in areas frequented by raccoons can lead to a rare but serious roundworm infection. Keep garbage contained tightly closed, and avoid specific areas where raccoons are frequent, especially when children are present.
So to get the most enjoyment from the warming days ahead, take some common sense precautions and avoid annoying to life-threatening conditions putting a damper on your fun. Stay safe and enjoy the warmer weather!
Dr. Fleming is the Medical Director of The Jane Pauley Community Health Center (closely affiliated with Community Health Network). Ideas for this column can be e-mailed to Dr. Fleming at AskDrFleming@gmail.com. Or you can write your medical questions to Dr, Fleming at AskDrFleming, 8931 E. 30th Street, Indianapolis, IN 46218. On written correspondence, please include your name and city (names will not be published).