Many parents bring their child to the doctor’s office because the youngster won’t eat, only to to learn that the 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 pediatric nurse practitioner Catherine Quinn-Welsh, CNP.
“Like most viruses, it’s fairly contagious. So in a daycare or school setting it can spread very quickly,” she says. “It can spread quickly among family members too if they haven’t had it, and will often spread among the entire family.”
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. It usually affects infants and children under the age of 10. Because hand, foot, and mouth disease is infectious, it can sometimes make adolescents and adults sick, too.
Hand, foot and mouth disease is a completely different condition than foot-and-mouth disease. Foot-and-mouth disease is an illness that affects cattle, sheep and swine. The two diseases are unrelated and stem from different viruses.
In this Q&A, Ms. Quinn-Welsh explains more about this common and highly contagious illness.
Q: What are the symptoms of hand, foot, and mouth disease?
A: 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.
Q: How is hand, foot, and mouth disease spread?
A: Hand, foot and mouth disease spreads through direct contact with nose and throat discharges of the infected person. It also can spread through contact with the stool of an infected person.
Q: How long is a person with hand, foot, and mouth disease contagious?
A: Someone with this illness is most contagious during the first week. He or she may remain contagious until the blister-like rash has disappeared.
Q: How is hand, foot, and mouth disease treated?
A: There is no specific treatment for hand, foot and mouth disease. However, some symptoms can be treated. For example, it’s best to avoid foods and drinks that are too acidic, such as orange juice, because they can irritate mouth sores. Patients should stick to milder foods or cold foods. Over-the-counter pain medications can help as well.
Q: Can hand, foot, and mouth disease be prevented?
A: You can do a number of things to prevent or reduce the spread of hand, foot and mouth disease. They include:
- Washing your hands often, especially after changing diapers.
- Disinfecting any contaminated surfaces with a water and bleach.
- Washing your child’s clothing, bedding and any other soiled items.
- If your child becomes infected, keeping him or her home from daycare, school or any other group activity for the first few days of the illness to prevent spread.