Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD)

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What is the contagious period for hand, foot, and mouth disease?

Once exposed to the virus, those who develop symptoms and signs will do so within four to six days. They are most contagious during the first week of the illness. However, the virus may continue to be shed in respiratory secretions (saliva and/or nasal mucous) or in the stool for several weeks to months.

What is the incubation period for hand, foot, and mouth disease?

HFMD is moderately contagious and spreads from person to person. It cannot be spread by animals. Usually, the virus is passed via oral secretions (nasal discharge and saliva, etc.) or via stool. There is a short four- to six-day incubation period between exposure and development of initial symptoms (fever and malaise). A person is most contagious during the first week of illness.

Can adults get hand, foot, and mouth disease?

An adult who was never exposed to the viruses that cause HFMD as a child could develop the characteristic symptoms and physical signs (vesicular rash with the characteristic distribution) if infected by the virus. Interestingly, an individual can also have the infection but develop no symptoms or signs. Unfortunately, he is still contagious even though he lacks objective physical findings.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/20/2016

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