Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a contagious viral infection common in young children. In most cases, the infection is mild and lasts for about 7-10 days and causes sores or blisters in the mouth and throat, as well as a painful rash (red spots) on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet
While the disease most commonly occurs in children under 10, it can sometimes affect older children and adults. It spreads quickly in childcare centers, preschools, and other places where children and adults are in close contact. Here’s what you should know if your child catches this disease.
How does hand, foot, and mouth disease spread?
The virus remains in the infected person’s body for several days and weeks after the infection and can shed in the following:
Hand, foot, and mouth disease is most contagious in the first week of infection, and transmission occurs through:
What are signs and symptoms of hand, foot, and mouth disease?
Symptoms usually appear in stages, 3-7 days after coming in contact with the virus. Early symptoms are flu-like and include:
- Fever for 1-2 days
- Sore throat
- Loss of appetite
- Irritability and tiredness
- General feeling of being unwell
The following symptoms typically occur 1-2 days after fever begins:
- Painful red blister-like sores or ulcers usually develop on the tongue, back of the mouth, gums, and inside of cheeks. The sores usually start as small red spots, which blister and become sore, making swallowing painful and difficult.
- Skin rashes that have flat, painful, red blisters appear on the palms of the hands, fingers, and soles of the feet. Flat spots or sores may also appear on the knees, elbows, buttocks, or genital area.
What are complications of hand, foot, and mouth disease?
The most common complication of hand, foot, and mouth disease is dehydration, which occurs because swallowing becomes difficult.
A serious form of the Coxsackievirus and Enterovirus 71 can sometimes cause rare complications including:
- Viral meningitis: Swelling of the membranes around the brain and spinal cord
- Encephalitis: Brain inflammation and swelling
- Myocarditis: Swelling of the heart muscle
- Paralysis: Loss of muscle function
How is hand, foot, and mouth disease treated?
There is no specific treatment for hand, foot, and mouth disease. Signs and symptoms usually resolve on their own in 7-10 days, and treatment usually focuses on symptom relief.
Doctors often recommend the following to help ease discomfort:
- Adequate rest
- Oral numbing mouth sprays
- Medicated syrups or lozenges
- Pain medications (acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help relieve headaches and general discomfort; aspirin is not recommended for children under 19)
- Anti-itch lotion and topical ointments (for example, calamine)
Doing the following at home may help reduce blister soreness in the mouth and throat and help make eating and drinking more comfortable:
- Eating cold treats, such as popsicles, ice cream, yogurt, or smoothies
- Drinking milk-based fluids or cold water
- Avoiding acidic foods and beverages, such as citrus fruits, fruit juice, and soda
- Avoiding salty or spicy foods
- Eating soft foods that don’t require chewing
- Rinsing the mouth after meals
- Swishing with warm salt water, which helps reduce inflammation
How to prevent the spread of hand, foot, and mouth disease
The following precautions can prevent the spread of hand, foot and mouth disease and reduce the risk of infection:
- Washing hands with soap and water, especially after:
- Avoiding touching the eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
- Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, shared items, toys, and doorknobs in childcare settings
- Avoiding touching, hugging, or kissing someone who is infected and not sharing any objects with them
- Teaching children to:
- Cover their nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing
- Keep their hands clean
- Not put any objects, fingers, or hands in their mouth
- Isolating sick individuals. People with the infection should stay at home to limit exposure. Children should not be sent to childcare or school until they are completely recovered.
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