What is hand-foot-and-mouth disease?

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease: Overview

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is a common illness caused by a virus. The virus is very contagious. It spreads easily through contact with stool, coughs, sneezes, and runny noses. Anyone can get hand-foot-and-mouth disease, but it's most common in children.

Symptoms are usually mild. They often start with a mild fever, a poor appetite, and a sore throat. In a day or two, blisters or sores may form in the mouth, on the hands and feet, and sometimes on the buttocks. Mouth sores or blisters are often painful and may make it hard to eat. Not everyone who gets infected has symptoms.

Home care can help relieve the symptoms. They usually go away in about 7 to 10 days. This illness is caused by a virus, not bacteria, so antibiotics won't help.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is not the same as foot-and-mouth disease (or hoof-and-mouth disease), which occurs in animals.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is a common illness caused by a virus. The virus is very contagious. It spreads easily through contact with stool, coughs, sneezes, and runny noses. Anyone can get hand-foot-and-mouth disease, but it's most common in children.

Symptoms are usually mild. They often include blisters and sores on the hands and feet and in the mouth. The symptoms usually go away in about 7 to 10 days. Home care can help relieve the symptoms.

What are the symptoms of hand-foot-and-mouth disease?

At first your child may feel tired, get a sore throat, or have a fever. Then in a day or two, sores or blisters may appear in or on the mouth and on the hands, feet, and sometimes the buttocks. In some cases a skin rash may appear before the blisters do. The blisters may break open and crust over.

The sores and blisters usually go away in a week or so.

In some cases there are no symptoms, or they are very mild. Parents may get the disease from their children and not even realize it.

How is hand-foot-and-mouth disease treated?

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease usually doesn't need treatment. You can use home care to help relieve your child's symptoms.

  • Offer your child plenty of cool fluids to help with sore throat. Cold foods such as flavored ice pops and ice cream also may help.
  • Don't give your child acidic or spicy foods and drinks, such as salsa or orange juice. These foods can make mouth sores more painful.

For pain and fever, ask your doctor if you can give your child acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Advil). Do not give your child aspirin. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

Children are most likely to spread the disease during the first week of the illness. But the virus can stay in the stool for several months and may spread to others. To help prevent the disease from spreading:

  • If your child goes to day care or school, talk to the staff about when your child can return.
  • Wash your hands frequently. It is especially important to wash your hands after you touch a blister or change the diaper of an infected child.
  • Teach all family members to wash their hands often. It is especially important to wash your hands after you change the diaper of an infected child.
  • Don't let your child share toys or give kisses while your child is infected.

How is hand-foot-and-mouth disease diagnosed?

A doctor can tell if your child has hand-foot-and-mouth disease by the symptoms you describe and by looking at the sores and blisters. Tests usually aren't needed.

How can you care for your child who has hand-foot-and-mouth disease?

  • Make sure your child gets extra rest while they're not feeling well.
  • Have your child drink plenty of fluids. If your child has kidney, heart, or liver disease and has to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids your child drinks.
  • Do not give your child acidic foods and drinks, such as spaghetti sauce or orange juice. These things may make mouth sores more painful. Cold drinks, flavored ice pops, and ice cream may soothe mouth and throat pain.
  • Ask your doctor if you can give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for fever, pain, or fussiness. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not use ibuprofen if your child is less than 6 months old unless the doctor gave you instructions to use it. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20. It has been linked with Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Do not give your child two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Watch for and treat signs of dehydration, which means that the body has lost too much water. As your child becomes dehydrated, thirst increases, and the mouth may feel very dry. Your child may have sunken eyes with few or no tears when crying. Your child may also lack energy and want to be held a lot. And your child won't need to urinate as often as usual.
  • Take steps to avoid spreading the virus.
    • Keep your child out of group settings, if possible. If your child goes to day care or school, talk to staff about when your child can return.
    • Wash your hands after you use the toilet or change a diaper and before you touch food. Teach your child to wash their hands after using the toilet and before eating. Use soap and water, and scrub for at least 20 seconds. Or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Teach your child to cover their mouth when they cough or sneeze.
    • Do not let your child share toys or give kisses while your child is infected.

What is hand-foot-and-mouth disease?

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is an illness that causes sores or blisters in or on the mouth and on the hands, feet, and sometimes the buttocks and legs. They may be painful. The illness usually doesn't last more than a week or so.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is common in children but can also occur in adults. It can occur at any time of year but is most common in the summer and fall.

It is not the same as foot-and-mouth disease (sometimes called hoof-and-mouth disease) or mad cow disease. These diseases almost always occur in animals.

What causes hand-foot-and-mouth disease?

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is caused by a virus called an enterovirus.

The virus spreads easily through coughing and sneezing. It can also spread through contact with infected stool or blister fluid. This can happen while changing diapers or by touching an object that a child with blisters or sores touched. Often the disease breaks out within a community.

It usually takes 3 to 6 days for a person to get symptoms of hand-foot-and-mouth disease after being exposed to the virus. This is called the incubation period.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a new or worse fever.
  • You have a severe headache.
  • You can't swallow or can't drink enough because of throat pain.
  • You have symptoms of dehydration, such as:
    • Dry eyes and a dry mouth.
    • Passing only a little urine.
    • Feeling thirstier than usual.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.