Herpangina is a febrile disorder caused by numerous group A coxsackieviruses and occasionally other enteroviruses. Infection causes oropharyngeal mucosal vesicular and ulcerative lesions.
Herpangina tends to occur in epidemics, most commonly in infants and children. It is characterized by sudden onset of fever with sore throat, headache, anorexia, and frequently neck pain. Infants may vomit. Within 2 days after onset, up to 20 (mean, 4 to 5) 1- to 2-mm diameter grayish papules develop and become vesicles with erythematous areolae. They occur most frequently on the tonsillar pillars but also on the soft palate, tonsils, uvula, or tongue. During the next 24 h, the lesions become shallow ulcers, seldom > 5 mm in diameter, and heal in 1 to 7 days.
Complications are unusual. Lasting immunity to the infecting strain follows, but repeated episodes caused by other group A coxsackieviruses or other enteroviruses are possible.
Diagnosis is based on symptoms and characteristic oral lesions. Confirmatory testing is not usually required but can be done by isolating the virus from the lesions, detecting virus by reverse transcriptase–PCR, or demonstrating a rise in specific antibody titer.
Recurrent aphthous ulcers may appear similar. Rarely, Bednar aphthous ulcers occur in the pharynx but usually without systemic symptoms. Herpetic stomatitis occurs sporadically and causes larger, more persistent, and more numerous ulcers throughout the oropharynx than herpangina. Coxsackievirus A10 causes lymphonodular pharyngitis, which is similar except that the papules become 2- to 3-mm whitish to yellowish nodules instead of vesicles and ulcers.
Treatment of herpangina is symptomatic (see Treatment).
Last full review/revision June 2013 by Mary T. Caserta, MD
Content last modified July 2013