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.
It’s not the same thing as foot-and-mouth disease, which comes from a different virus and affects only animals.
Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease Causes and Risk Factors
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.
Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease Symptoms
- Early symptoms may include:
- Sore throat
- Painful blisters inside a child’s mouth, usually toward the back, or on their tongue
- Feeling unwell (malaise)
- Loss of appetite
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
Mouth sores can make it hurt to swallow. Eating or drinking less than usual could be the only sign of a child’s illness. Be sure they get enough fluids and nutrients.
Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease Transmission
The viruses that cause HFMD lurk in the fluids in an infected person’s body, including:
- Mucus from their nose or lungs
- Fluid from blisters or scabs
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 Diagnosis
Your doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and look at any sores or rashes. This is usually enough for them to decide if it’s hand, foot, and mouth disease. But they might also swab your child’s throat or take a sample of poop or blood for lab testing.
Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease Treatment
There’s no cure or vaccine for hand, foot, and mouth disease. Because a virus causes it, antibiotics won’t help. It usually goes away on its own after 7 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 Complications
Serious complications from hand, foot, and mouth disease are rare. Enterovirus 71 is more likely to cause problems than other HFMD viruses.
Complications may include:
- Dehydration if mouth sores make it hard to swallow liquids
- Swelling of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord (viral meningitis)
- Brain swelling (encephalitis)
- Swelling of the heart muscle (myocarditis)
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. Check with your doctor if you think they might still be contagious.
- American Academy of Pediatrics: “Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease.”
- CDC: “Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease.”
- National Organization for Rare Diseases: “Hand-Foot-Mouth Syndrome.”
- World Health Organization Western Pacific: “A Guide to Clinical Management and Public Health Response for Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD).”
- American Academy of Family Physicians: “Hand, foot, and mouth disease.”
- StatPearls: “Hand Foot and Mouth Disease.”
- Nemours/KidsHealth: “Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease.”
- UpToDate: “Hand, foot, and mouth disease and herpangina.”