Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease
Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a viral infection that's common in children. Learn about symptoms, causes, treatment, and prevention.
Top of page
Is Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?
Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a highly
contagious infection. It’s caused by viruses from the Enterovirus family, most commonly the coxsackievirus. These
viruses can spread from person-to-person through direct contact with unwashed
hands or surfaces contaminated with feces. It can also be transmitted through
contact with an infected person’s saliva, stool, or respiratory secretions.
Hand, foot, and mouth disease is
characterized by blisters or sores in the mouth and a rash on the hands and
feet. The infection can affect people of all ages, but it usually occurs in
children under age 5. It is generally a mild condition that goes away on its
own within several days.
Are the Symptoms of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?
The symptoms begin to develop three to
seven days after the initial infection. This period is known as the incubation
period. When symptoms do appear, you or your child may experience:
- a fever
- a poor appetite
- a sore throat
- a headache
- painful, red blisters in the mouth
- a red rash on the hands and the soles of the
A fever and sore throat are usually
the first symptoms of hand, foot, and mouth disease. The characteristic
blisters and rashes show up later, usually one or two days after the fever
Causes Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?
Hand, foot, and mouth disease is often
caused by a strain of coxsackievirus, most commonly coxsackievirus A16. The
coxsackievirus is part of a group of viruses called Enteroviruses. In some cases, other types of Enteroviruses can cause hand, foot, and mouth disease.
Viruses can be easily spread from
person-to-person. You or your child may contract hand, foot, and mouth disease
through contact with an infected person’s:
- fluid from blisters
- respiratory droplets sprayed into the air after
coughing or sneezing
Hand, foot, and mouth disease can also
be transmitted through direct contact with unwashed hands or a surface
containing traces of the virus.
Is at Risk for Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?
Young children have the highest risk
of getting hand, foot, and mouth disease. Risk increases if they attend daycare
or school, as viruses can spread quickly in these facilities. Children usually
build up immunity to the disease after being exposed to the viruses that cause
it. This is why the condition rarely affects people over age 10. However, it’s
still possible for older children and adults to get the infection, especially
if they have weakened immune systems.
Is Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease Diagnosed?
A doctor can often diagnose hand,
foot, and mouth disease simply by performing a physical exam. They’ll check the
mouth and body for the appearance of blisters and rashes. The doctor will also
ask you or your child about other symptoms.
The doctor may take a throat swab
or stool sample that can be tested for the virus. This will allow them to
confirm the diagnosis.
Is Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease Treated?
In most cases, the infection will go
away without treatment in seven to 10 days. However, your doctor may recommend
certain treatments to help ease symptoms until the disease has run its course.
These can include:
- prescription or over-the-counter topical
ointments to soothe blisters and rashes
- pain medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to
- medicated syrups or lozenges to ease
painful sore throats
Certain at-home treatments can also
provide relief from hand, foot, and mouth disease symptoms. You can try the
following home remedies to help make blisters less bothersome:
- Suck on ice or popsicles.
- Eat ice cream or sherbet.
- Drink cold beverages.
- Avoid citrus fruits, fruit drinks, and soda.
- Avoid spicy or salty foods.
Swishing warm salt water around in the
mouth may also help relieve the pain associated with mouth blisters and throat
sores. Do this several times a day or as often as needed.
Is the Outlook for People with Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?
You or your child should feel
completely better within five to seven days after the initial onset of
symptoms. Re-infection is uncommon. The body usually builds up immunity to the
viruses that cause the disease.
doctor immediately if symptoms get worse or don’t clear up within ten days.
In rare cases, coxsackievirus can cause a medical emergency.
Can Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease Be Prevented?
Practicing good hygiene is the best
defense against hand, foot, and mouth disease. Regular hand-washing can greatly
reduce your risk of contracting this virus.
Teach your children how to wash their
hands using hot water and soap. Hands should always be washed after using the
restroom, before eating, and after being out in public. Children should also be
taught not to put their hands or other objects in or near their mouths.
It’s also important to disinfect any
common areas in your home on a regular basis. Get in the habit of cleaning
shared surfaces first with soap and water, then with a diluted solution of
bleach and water. You should also disinfect toys, pacifiers, and other objects
that may be contaminated with the virus.
If you or your child experience
symptoms such as a fever or sore throat, stay home from school or work. You
should continue avoiding contact with others once the telltale blisters and
rashes develop. This can help you avoid spreading the disease to others.
How long are you contagious?
Marissa S. and Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Medically Reviewed by:
Aug 16, 2012
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.