Hand-foot-and-mouth disease — a mild, contagious viral infection common in young children — is characterized by sores in the mouth and a rash on the hands and feet. Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is most commonly caused by a coxsackievirus.
There's no specific treatment for hand-foot-and-mouth disease. You can reduce your risk of infection from hand-foot-and-mouth disease by practicing good hygiene, such as washing your hands often and thoroughly.
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease may cause some or all of the following signs and symptoms:
The usual period from initial infection to the onset of signs and symptoms (incubation period) is three to seven days. A fever is often the first sign of hand-foot-and-mouth disease, followed by a sore throat and sometimes a poor appetite and malaise. One or two days after the fever begins, painful sores may develop in the mouth or throat. A rash on the hands and feet and possibly on the buttocks can follow within one or two days.
When to see a doctor
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease on the hand
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease often causes a rash of painful, red, blister-like lesions on the palms of the hands. ...
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease on the foot
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease often causes a rash of painful, red, blister-like lesions on the soles of the feet. ...
The most common cause of hand-foot-and-mouth disease is infection with the coxsackievirus A16. The coxsackievirus belongs to a group of viruses called nonpolio enteroviruses. Other enteroviruses sometimes cause hand-foot-and-mouth disease.
Oral ingestion is the main source of coxsackievirus infection and hand-foot-and-mouth disease. The illness spreads by person-to-person contact with an infected person's:
Common in child care setting
Although your child is most contagious with hand-foot-and-mouth disease during the first week of the illness, the virus can remain in his or her body for weeks after the signs and symptoms are gone. That means your child still can infect others.
Some people, particularly adults, can pass the virus without showing any signs or symptoms of the disease.
Outbreaks of the disease are more common in summer and autumn in the United States and other temperate climates. In tropical climates, outbreaks occur year-round.
Different from foot-and-mouth disease
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease primarily affects children younger than age 10. Children in child care centers are especially susceptible to outbreaks of hand-foot-and-mouth disease because the infection spreads by person-to-person contact, and young children are the most susceptible.
Children usually develop immunity to hand-foot-and-mouth disease as they get older by building antibodies after exposure to the virus that causes the disease. However, it's possible for adolescents and adults to get the disease.
The most common complication of hand-foot-and-mouth disease is dehydration. The illness can cause sores in the mouth and throat, making swallowing painful and difficult. Watch closely to make sure your child frequently sips fluid during the course of the illness. If dehydration is severe, intravenous (IV) fluids may be necessary.
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is usually a minor illness causing only a few days of fever and relatively mild signs and symptoms. However, a rare and sometimes serious form of the coxsackievirus can involve the brain and cause other complications:
Preparing for your appointment
If you take your child to a doctor, make the most of your time by writing down information the doctor will need before you go, including:
Some questions you might want to ask your doctor include:
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
Your doctor will likely be able to distinguish hand-foot-and-mouth disease from other types of viral infections by evaluating:
A throat swab or stool specimen may be taken and sent to the laboratory to determine which virus caused the illness. However, your doctor probably won't need this type of testing to diagnose hand-foot-and-mouth disease.
Treatments and drugs
There's no specific treatment for hand-foot-and-mouth disease. Signs and symptoms of hand-foot-and-mouth disease usually clear up in seven to 10 days.
A topical oral anesthetic may help relieve the pain of mouth sores. Over-the-counter pain medications other than aspirin, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), may help relieve general discomfort.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Certain foods and beverages may irritate blisters on the tongue or in the mouth or throat. Try these tips to help make blister soreness less bothersome and eating and drinking more tolerable:
If your child is able to rinse without swallowing, swishing the inside of his or her mouth with warm salt water may be soothing. Mix 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 milliliters) of salt with 1 cup (237 milliliters) of warm water. Have your child rinse with this solution several times a day, or as often as needed to help reduce the pain and inflammation of mouth and throat sores caused by hand-foot-and-mouth disease.
Certain precautions can help to reduce the risk of infection with hand-foot-and-mouth disease:
Last Updated: 2011-08-26
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