What is herpangina?
Herpangina is a viral infection of the mouth which is in most cases caused by a particular strain of group A coxsackievirus, but also by group B coxsackievirus, echovirus and enterovirus 71. It affects children more commonly than adults. The distinguishing symptom of herpangina is small, blister-like ulcers or lesions on the roof of the mouth and at the back of the throat, which are often painful. It is generally considered to be a non-serious condition that ordinarily clears up in under 10 days. The groups of viruses that cause herpangina are highly contagious.
Symptoms of herpangina
The early symptoms of herpangina are similar to other viral infections that affect the nose and throat. These include:
- Sore throat
- Pain when swallowing
- Sudden fever
- Neck pain
- Swollen lymph glands
- Loss of appetite
- Drooling and/or vomiting in children
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Herpangina is different from other similar conditions because of the small blisters, and later ulcers, which form on the back of the throat. These ulcers are normally light grey and ringed in red, and in most cases will begin to appear within two days after the initial infection.
The symptoms of herpangina will normally disappear within 7 to 10 days. In cases where the high fever or ulcers do not disappear after five continuous days, medical advice should be sought as soon as possible.
Herpangina is generally considered to be a benign condition, but complications are possible. One of the biggest risks associated with the condition is dehydration, caused by an individual refusing food or water due to discomfort or lack of appetite. Symptoms of dehydration can include fatigue, decreased urination and a dry mouth. If there is a suspicion of dehydration, seek a medical opinion right away.
Causes of herpangina
Herpangina is in most cases caused by a particular strain of group A coxsackievirus, but can also be caused by group B coxsackievirus, echovirus and enterovirus 71. Each of these viruses is highly contagious and most common in children younger than 7 years of age. Children are more susceptible to these viruses because they do not yet possess the antibodies that defend against it. However, it is possible for the condition to affect a person of any age.
Typically, the virus is spread when fecal matter from an infected individual comes into contact with the mouth area. This fecal matter can be carried on the hands, as well as on objects or surfaces. The virus can also be spread via the spray from a cough or sneeze of a person with herpangina.
Diagnostic tests are not typically necessary to identify herpangina. Although many of the symptoms of the virus are common to other conditions, the ulcers are unique, meaning a doctor will be able to diagnose the virus with a simple examination and questions about the individual’s other symptoms and medical history.
The infection causing herpangina will usually go away without any particular treatment. Antibiotics are not needed, because the conditon is caused by a virus. However, there are treatments available to relieve the symptoms caused by the infection.
The most common treatments for the symptoms of herpangina are:
- Ibuprofen: Used to ease pain and lessen fever.
- Acetaminophen/paracetamol: Used to ease pain and lessen fever.
- Anaesthetics: Numbing throat lozenges, mouthwashes, or teething gels may be helpful to reduce the pain caused by herpangina.
- Fluids: To avoid dehydration, it is important to take in plenty of fluids during infection and recovery. Water and cold milk are typically recommended as they are easy to swallow and can have a soothing effect. Citrus and hot drinks should be avoided because they can be painful to swallow.
Aspirin should be avoided as a treatment method, particularly for children and teenagers, who should avoid aspirin completely unless asked to take it by a doctor.
Q: Can adults contract herpangina?
A: Yes, herpangina can occur in people of any age, though the virus is most common in children younger than 7 years of age.
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Q: Are there any home remedies for herpangina?
A: There are some home remedies to treat herpangina, mostly aimed at alleviating the pain from mouth ulcers or a sore throat. One of the most common is the use of ice. Apply chunks of ice directly to the ulcer for at least 10 minutes twice per day. This should help ease the swelling and lessen the pain. When recovering from herpangina, gargling with salt water can help the mouth ulcers to heal.[^8]
Q: How can I avoid spreading herpangina?
A: To avoid spreading herpangina, those experiencing the condition should avoid extended contact with others and stay home from work or school while feeling unwell. When coughing or sneezing, individuals should take care to cover their mouth and nose, and be sure to wash their hands thoroughly at regular intervals.
Q: Does herpangina pose any risks during pregnancy?
A: Herpangina does pose a risk of adverse effects during pregnancy. Women worried about herpangina during pregnancy should consult a doctor for advice and take preventative measures to avoid the virus in the first instance.
Q: Can herpangina cause a skin rash?
A: Some enteroviral infections can cause skin rashes, also known as exanthems. Although the coxsackievirus that causes herpangina can cause a rash, it is atypical and should be examined by a doctor.
Q: What do the sores associated with herpangina look like?
A: The sores, otherwise referred to as lesions or erythematous macules, that form in the rear of the mouth and throat as a symptom of herpangina are typically light red in colour and in most cases smaller than 5mm. In the later ulcerative stage of the condition, the ulcers can typically be distinguished by their light grey colour and red border.
Q: Is herpangina related to herpes?
A: Despite the similar sounding names, herpangina and herpes are not related. Both conditions cause ulcers, sores or lesions, but in different locations, moreover the two conditions are caused by separate viruses: herpangina by coxsackieviruses (coxsackie A and B), enterovirus 71 and echovirus, and herpes by herpes simplex 1 (HSV1) and 2 (HSV2).
A: Do enteroviruses cause any other conditions?
Q: Enteroviruses are a group of viruses that cause a range of viral illnesses. The two most common enteroviruses are coxsackieviruses and echovirus. Away from herpangina, enteroviruses can also cause hand, foot and mouth (HFM) disease, epidemic pleurodynia and polio, among other infectious disorders.
Other names for herpangina
- Enteroviral vesicular pharyngitis
Doctors Health Press. “Herpangina: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatments.” June 15, 2017. Accessed July 11, 2017. ↩