Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD)

Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is a common infection in children that causes sores called ulcers inside or around their mouth and a rash or blisters on their hands, feet, legs, or buttocks. 

It can be painful, but it isn't serious.

The viruses that usually cause hand, foot, and mouth are named coxsackievirus a16 and enterovirus 71.

Anyone can have the disease, but children under age 5 are most likely to get it. It tends to spread easily in the summer and fall.

Different from foot-and-mouth disease

Hand, foot and mouth disease isn't related to foot-and-mouth disease (sometimes called hoof and mouth disease), which is an infectious viral disease found in farm animals. Hand, foot, and mouth diseases do not transmit disease from pets or other animals.

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease Transmission

The viruses that cause HFMD lurk in the fluids in an infected person’s body, including:

  • Saliva
  • Mucus from their nose or lungs
  • Fluid from blisters or scabs
  • Poop

Hand, foot, and mouth disease spreads through:

  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Close contact like kissing, hugging, sharing cups, or sharing utensils
  • Contact with poop, like when changing a diaper
  • Touching surfaces with the virus on them

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease Symptoms

  • Early symptoms may include:
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Painful blisters inside a child’s mouth, usually toward the back, or on their tongue
  • Feeling unwell (malaise)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Crankiness

A day or two later, a child might have

  • A rash that turns into blisters
  • Flat spots or sores on their knees, elbows, or buttocks
Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease Diagnosis

Your doctor will likely be able to distinguish hand-foot-and-mouth disease from other types of viral infections by evaluating:

The age of the affected person
The pattern of signs and symptoms
The appearance of the rash or sores

Your doctor may take a throat swab or stool specimen and send it to the laboratory to determine which virus caused the illness.

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease Treatment

There's no specific treatment for hand-foot-and-mouth disease. Signs and symptoms of hand-foot-and-mouth disease usually clear up in seven to 10 days.

In the meantime, you can help your child feel better with:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen or numbing mouth sprays. Don’t use aspirin, because it can cause serious illness in children.
  • Cold treats like ice pops, yogurt, or smoothies to soothe a sore throat. Avoid juice and soda, which have acids that might irritate sores.
  • Anti-itch lotion, like calamine, for rashes
Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease Prevention

Your child is most contagious in the first 7 days of the illness. But the virus can stay in their body for days or weeks and spread through their spit or poop. 

Take these steps to lower the chance of infection:

  • Wash your hands carefully, especially after changing a diaper or wiping a child’s nose. Help children keep their hands clean.
  • Teach kids to cover their mouth and nose when they sneeze or cough. A tissue is best, but the sleeve of their shirt also works.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and shared items like toys and doorknobs.
  • Don’t hug or kiss someone who has hand, foot, and mouth disease. Don’t share cups or utensils with them.
  • Don’t send your child to school or day care until their symptoms are gone.


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