Is Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD) Contagious?

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Painful mouth sores are a common sign of hand, foot, and mouth disease.

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD) Symptoms & Signs

HFMD 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 in the mouth. The foot lesions may also involve the lower calf region and rarely may appear on the buttocks.

What is hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD)?

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is caused by viruses called enteroviruses. Many different types of these viruses can cause the disease, but in the U.S., the most common cause is Coxsackievirus A16. The disease is called hand, foot, and mouth disease because a few days after the individual develops symptoms of a fever, reduced appetite, sore throat, and feeling weak, painful sores can develop on the palms of the hands, on soles of the feet, and in the mouth. Some individuals may also develop sores on the knees, elbows, buttocks, and genital area. The sores can blister and ulcerate. The disease is common and usually affects infants and children under 5 years of age (although it is possible for adults to get the disease).

Is hand, foot, and mouth disease contagious?

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is highly contagious. It is easily spread by nose and throat secretions (nasal mucus, saliva, kissing, for example). For children, is common to transmit the disease by the fecal-oral route. In addition, these viruses can be transmitted in contaminated droplets developed during sneezing or coughing and if the droplets land on objects, uninfected people can be contaminated if they pick up the object and then put their hands in their mouth or touch their face. A person may be contagious before symptoms develop and is most contagious during the first week of illness. However, some individuals can be contagious for weeks after symptoms and signs remit. Some people, especially adults, develop no symptoms but still can be contagious.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/16/2016

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