What Are the Symptoms of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease, & How Is it Treated?

What are the symptoms of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD)?

The main symptoms are a fever, sore throat, skin rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, and the telltale blisters, which usually show up in the mouth and on the hands, feet, and legs, says Mark Gettleman, MD, a pediatrician in private practice in Scottsdale, Arizona. The blisters generally start as small white or red spots and then turn into ulcers.



What causes 

HFMD is typically caused by the Coxsackievirus, a type of Enterovirus. Although the virus isn’t usually dangerous, it’s very contagious. “It goes around daycares and spreads like wildfire,” says Dr. Gettleman. The blisters and other symptoms are usually gone within 10 days, but the virus can be contagious for much longer — up to eight weeks after the illness is contracted. However, he says that since HFMD is most contagious during the first week of the illness, most doctors say that children can return to school after their sores are gone.

Who is most likely to get Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease?

It can infect people of all ages, but HMFD is most common in children under age 5, according to Dr. Gettleman. “Most kids get it, and they can get it more than once, because there are so many strains,” he adds.



How is the virus spread?

It spreads through bodily fluids such as saliva. “Kids stop swallowing their saliva because their throat hurts, and they drool on toys and their hands,” explains Dr. Gettleman. That’s why HMFD spreads so easily in daycare centers. The virus can also spread to a caregiver’s hands during diaper changes, so it’s important to be sure that your child’s caregiver practices excellent hand washing hygiene. 

How is Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease treated?

It’s a virus, so there’s no medicine that will cure HFMD. But, there are ways that you can help your child be more comfortable while you wait it out, including:

1. Take the pain out of mouth sores with Maalox. Have your child swish it around in his mouth, like mouthwash. “It can coat the sores so they hurt less,” says Amy Baxter, MD, a pediatrician in private practice in Atlanta, Georgia.

2. Treat fevers with over-the-counter pain relievers.  Bringing your child’s fever down can make her more comfortable. (As a reminder, always call your doctor if your baby under age 3 months has a fever, if your child over 3- months-old is acting weak or the fever persists for longer than three days, or if your child’s fever is over 104 degrees.)

3. Keep your child well-hydrated. “The mouth sores make it hard to swallow, because it hurts,” explains Dr. Gettleman. “But with the high fever, you really need to keep them hydrated.” Encourage your child to drink as much water and milk as possible. 

4. Avoid salty or acidic drinks. Acidic liquids like citric juice or salty drinks like Pedialyte are normally good for helping your child stay hydrated, but these beverages can irritate his mouth sores.

Are there any complications of the virus?

In very rare cases, HFMD can cause febrile seizures or meningitis, says Dr. Baxter. 

What are some ways to avoid Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease?

HFMD is most common in summer, since the virus flourishes in warm weather. The best way to avoid it is to teach your child proper handwashing techniques and make sure that caregivers wash their hands and the toys your child plays with regularly. And, if your child does catch the disease, be respectful of other families by keeping her home until her symptoms are gone.

Photo: Getty