Hand Foot and Mouth (HFM) Disease

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Hand foot and mouth (HFM) disease facts

  • Hand foot and mouth disease is a viral disease.
  • Hand foot and mouth disease produces a rash on the hands, feet, and in the mouth.
  • Hand foot and mouth disease often occurs in the spring and fall.
  • Hand foot and mouth disease is common in kids, particularly preschoolers.
  • Hand foot and mouth disease usually is mild and over within a week. Treatment is directly toward relief of symptoms (fever and sore throat).

What is hand foot and mouth (HFM) disease?

Hand foot and mouth disease (HFM) is a viral infection characterized by fever and a typical rash most frequently seen on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and inside the mouth. It should not be confused with foot (hoof) and mouth disease that affects cattle, sheep, and swine.

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

HFM is most commonly an illness of the spring and fall seasons. Initial symptoms of mild fever (101 F-102 F) and malaise are followed within one or two days by a characteristic rash. Small (2 mm-3 mm) red spots that quickly develop into small blisters (vesicles) appear on the palms, soles, and oral cavity. The gums, tongue, and inner cheek are most commonly involved. The foot lesions may also involve the lower calf region and rarely may appear on the buttocks. Oral lesions are commonly associated with a sore throat and diminished appetite.

What causes hand foot and mouth disease?

HFM is caused by several members of the enterovirus family of viruses. The most common cause is Coxsackie virus A-16; less frequently enterovirus 71 is the infectious agent. The clinical manifestations of routine HFM are the same regardless of the responsible virus. However, patients infected with enterovirus 71 are more likely to experience rare complications (for example, viral meningitis or cardiac muscle involvement).

Picture of characteristic rash and blisters of hand foot and mouth disease
Picture of characteristic rash and blisters of hand foot and mouth disease
Picture of characteristic mouth sores of hand foot and mouth disease
Picture of characteristic mouth sores of hand foot and mouth disease
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/26/2012

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Hand Foot and Mouth Disease and Pregnancy

Commonly HFM is an illness of children less than 10 years of age; adults generally were exposed during childhood and maintain a natural immunity. Information regarding fetal exposure to HFM during is limited. No solid evidence exists that maternal enterovirus infection is associated with complications such as spontaneous abortion or congenital defects. However, should a baby be born to a mother with active HFM symptoms, the risk of neonatal infection is high. Typically, such newborns have a mild illness. Rarely, overwhelming infection involving vital organs such as liver, heart, and brain can be lethal.

Picture of lesions in the mouth, a common characteristic of hand, foot and mouth disease

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