5 Things You Should Know About Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

A number of different viruses cause this childhood illness
child with hand foot and mouth disease

Your child is cranky, running a fever and is developing a rash on their little body. You contact your pediatrician’s office because they also won’t eat, only to soon learn that their lack of appetite is due to mouth sores from hand, foot and mouth disease

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The illness is a mild infectious childhood illness caused by a number of different viruses, usually a strain of the Coxsackie virus, says pediatrician Dana Schmidt, MD.

“Like most viruses, it’s fairly contagious,” says Dr. Schmidt. “So in a daycare or school setting, it can spread very quickly.”

The illness gets its name from the blister-like rash that usually forms on the hands, feet and mouth. Hand, foot and mouth disease is very common and usually affects infants and children under the age of 10. Because it’s infectious. It can spread among family members if they haven’t had it and it can sometimes make adolescents and adults sick, too.

When a patient only has the blisters in the mouth, but not hands and feet, it is called herpangina. The below advice applies to this as well.

Hand, foot and mouth disease is a completely different condition than foot-and-mouth disease, which is an illness that affects cattle, sheep and swine. The two diseases are unrelated and stem from different viruses. Animals can’t get hand, foot and mouth disease.

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She explains more about this common and highly contagious illness.

1. What are the symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease?

The initial symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease include fever, lack of appetite, sore throat and runny nose. A day or two after the initial symptoms appear, a blister-like rash forms on the hands, feet or mouth.

2. How is hand, foot and mouth disease spread?

Hand, foot and mouth disease spreads through direct contact with nose and throat discharges of the infected person. The virus can also be excreted in the stool.

3. How long is a person with hand, foot and mouth disease contagious?

Someone with this illness is most contagious during the first week, but they may remain contagious until the blister-like rash has disappeared. 

“Typically, we see most cases in the warmer spring and summer months, but since it is quite infective, it can be seen at any time of the year,” she says.

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4. How is hand, foot and mouth disease treated?

There is no specific treatment for hand, foot and mouth disease, but the CDC reports that most people get better on their own within seven to 10 days. However, some symptoms can be treated.

For example, it’s best to avoid foods and drinks that are acidic, such as orange juice, because they can irritate mouth sores. Stick to milder or cold foods and it’s important to keep your child hydrated. Over-the-counter pain medications can help as well. Older patients may find saltwater gargles can relieve some discomfort but this is not recommended in infants, toddlers or younger children.

If your child’s fever does not resolve after five days or if all symptoms don’t improve after 10 days, take them to their pediatrician, especially if their symptoms are severe, if they have a weak immune system or if they appear dehydrated.

5. Can hand, foot, and mouth disease be prevented?

You can do a number of things to prevent or reduce the spread of hand, foot and mouth disease, including:

  • Washing your hands often, especially after changing diapers.
  • Disinfecting any contaminated surfaces with a water and bleach or sanitizing wipes.
  • Washing your child’s clothing, bedding and any other soiled items.
  • If your child becomes infected, keeping them home from daycare, school or any other group activity for the first few days of the illness to prevent spread.​​

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