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.
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.
What are the symptoms?
At first your child may feel tired, get a sore throat, or have a fever of around 101°F (38°C) to 103°F (39°C). 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 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 is it 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 he or she is infected.
What about pregnant women and hand-foot-and-mouth disease?
Because so few adults, including pregnant women, get hand-foot-and-mouth disease, it is hard to predict the risk to an unborn child. From experience, doctors say it is very unlikely that the unborn baby will be harmed if a pregnant woman gets hand-foot-and-mouth disease or is around someone who has the disease. The most likely time the unborn child could be harmed is in the first trimester. But even then the risk is small.
Other Works Consulted
- Abzug MJ (2011). Nonpolio enteroviruses. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 1088–1094. Philadelphia: Saunders.
- Belazarian LT, et al. (2012). Exanthematous viral diseases. In LA Goldman et al., eds., Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine, 8th ed., vol. 2, pp. 2337–2366. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Romero JR (2011). Enterovirus infections. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph's Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 1134–1138. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Current as of: August 22, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine