Hand, foot and mouth disease is a highly contagious infection. It’s caused by viruses from the Enterovirus genus, 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. t is an illness that causes sores in or on the mouth, on hands and feet and sometimes on buttocks and legs. The sores may be painful. The illness usually doesn’t last more than a week.
It 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 other diseases that have similar names, such as foot and mouth disease (sometimes called hoof and mouth disease) or mad cow disease. These diseases almost always occur in animals. 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 blisterson 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 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
- Sores in the mouth
- An itchy rash on the hands, feet, or both
- Flu-like symptoms
- Painful, red, blister-like lesions on the tongue, gums and inside of the cheeks
- A red rash, without itching but sometimes with blistering, on the palms, soles and sometimes the buttocks.
One or two days after the fever begins, painful sores may develop in the front of the mouth or throat. A rash on the hands and feet and possibly on the buttocks can follow within one or two days. Sores that develop in the back of the mouth and throat may suggest that your child is infected with a related viral illness called herpangina
How is it transmitted?
The virus may be spread to another person through:
- Close personal contact
- The air through coughing or sneezing
- Contact with feces
- Contact with contaminated objects and surfaces
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
Enterovirus viruses cause HFMD. According to the CDC, the viruses that most commonly cause the illness include:
- Coxsackievirus A16: This virus is the most common cause of HFMD in the United States.
- Coxsackievirus A6: People who contract this virus may experience more severe symptoms.
- Enterovirus 71 (EV-A71): This virus is the most common cause of HFMD in East and Southeast Asia.
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.
HFMD usually goes away on its own without treatment. You may need to drink extra fluids to avoid dehydration. Cold foods like popsicles, smoothies, or ice cream are easier to swallow. Do not eat or drink sodas, hot drinks or acidic foods such as citrus juice or tomato sauce. You may also need medicine to decrease a fever or pain. You may need a medical mouthwash to help decrease pain caused by mouth sores.
- Taking fever reducers (acetaminophen or ibuprofen) to help keep the fever down
- Drinking plenty of water and other fluids to help prevent dehydration
- Using a numbing mouthwash to alleviate the pain of mouth sores
- Avoiding hot and spicy foods
If you have mouth sores, it might be painful to swallow. However, it is important to drink enough liquids to prevent dehydration (loss of body fluids). If you cannot swallow enough liquids, you may need to receive them intravenously (IV).
Wash your hands often. Use soap and water. Wash your hands after you use the bathroom, change a child’s diapers or sneeze. Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food.
- Stay home from work or school while you have a fever or open blisters. Do not kiss, hug, or share food or drinks.
- Wash all items and surfaces with diluted bleach. This includes toys, tables, counter tops, and door knobs.
- Isolate contagious people. Because hand-foot-and-mouth disease is highly contagious, people with the illness should limit their exposure to others while they have active signs and symptoms.
Teach good hygiene. Show your children how to practice good hygiene and how to keep themselves clean. Explain to them why it’s best not to put their fingers, hands or any other objects in their mouths.
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 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.
Call a doctor immediately if symptoms get worse or don’t clear up within ten days. In rare cases, coxsackievirus can cause a medical emergency.
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. You can’t contract hand-foot-and-mouth disease from pets or other animals, and you can’t transmit it to them.