Hand-Foot-and Mouth Disease

What is hand, foot, and mouth disease?    

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a viral infection that causes sores that look like tiny blisters, to form in the mouth, and on the hands, feet, buttocks, and sometimes the genitals.  Hand, foot and mouth disease is caused by the Coxsackie A16 virus.  It is not related to any animal diseases.

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

The main symptoms that you will see with hand, foot, and mouth disease are the small, painful ulcers that appear in the mouth, especially on the tongue and sides of the mouth.  You will also see small water blisters on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and on the webs between the fingers and the toes.  Rarely, the rash may also occur on the arms, legs, and face (but not the trunk).  You may notice that your child also has a low grade fever between 100-102.

How does hand, foot, and mouth disease spread?  

The virus that causes hand, foot, and mouth disease can travel in the body fluids of an infected person.  For example, the virus can be found in:

  • Mucous from the nose
  • Saliva
  • Fluid from one of the sores
  • Traces of bowel movements

Is there a test for hand, foot, and mouth disease?    

Yes, but it is usually not necessary.  The doctor should be able to tell if your child has it by learning about your child’s symptoms and doing an exam.

How is hand, foot, and mouth treated?    

The infection itself is not treated.  It is a virus that will run its course and usually go away on its own within a few days.

What is the expected course of this virus?    

  • The fever lasts 2-3 days.
  • The mouth ulcers should resolve after 7 days.
  • The rash on the hands and feet can last about 10 days.
  • The rash on the hands and feet may then begin to peel.

What can I do at home for my child if he/she has hand, foot, and mouth disease?   

  • Give acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) for the pain and fever.
  • Use a liquid antacid for mouth pain:

o   For children under 4, put ½ teaspoon in the front of the mouth 4 times per day after meals.

o   Children older than 4 years old can use 1 teaspoon as a mouthwash after meals.

  • Encourage soft and cold foods.  Ex. Popsicles, sherbet, cold drinks, milkshakes, slushes.
  • Avoid giving your child citrus, salty, or spicy foods as this will make the sores hurt more.

Is hand, foot, and mouth contagious?    

Yes!  Hand, foot, and mouth is quite contagious, but harmless.  It has an incubation period of 2-3 days.  The child can return to school after the fever is gone (usually 2-3 days).  The rash alone does not necessitate exclusion from daycare or school.   As always, the best way to prevent this disease is proper hand washing with soap and water.

When do I need to call the doctor?      

  • If signs of dehydration develop.
  • With fever that is present more than 3 days.
  • If your child becomes worse.