Health Department

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

by Larry D. Jones, MPH

May 21, 2012

Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is a moderately contagious viral illness that commonly affects infants and children, occurring most often in summer and early autumn. The most common cause of hand, foot, and mouth disease in the United States is the CoxsackievirusA16. It mostly affects children younger than 10 years of age, but people of any age can be infected. It is not the same as foot-and-mouth disease.

Symptoms usually begin with a fever, poor appetite, malaise (feeling vaguely unwell), and often a sore throat. A couple of days after the fever starts, painful sores can develop in the mouth. A skin rash with flat or raised red spots can also develop, usually on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet and sometimes on the buttocks. This rash may blister, but it will not itch. Some may only have a rash; others may only have mouth sores; and still other people with HFMD may show no symptoms at all.

The disease is spread by direct contact with nose and throat discharges, saliva, fluid from blisters, or the stool of infected persons. The time between infection and the development of symptoms is about three - seven days.

People with HFMD are most contagious during the first week of their illness, but they can spread the virus that causes HFMD weeks after symptoms have gone away. It is also important to remember that people who get HFMD and show no symptoms of the disease can still spread the viruses that cause it. Ill children and adults should stay home until fever is gone and they are healthy enough for routine activities.

The illness is typically mild, and nearly all patients recover without medical treatment. Complications are uncommon. A more common complication of hand-foot-and-mouth disease is dehydration. The illness can cause sores in the mouth and throat, making swallowing painful and difficult. Watch closely to make sure your child frequently sips fluid during the course of the illness. If dehydration is severe, intravenous (IV) fluids may be necessary.

While there is no vaccine to prevent the disease, there are simple steps you and your family can take to reduce the risk of getting sick:

· Frequently washing hands, especially after diaper changes;

· Thoroughly cleaning objects and surfaces (toys, doorknobs, etc.) that may be contaminated with a virus that causes HFMD; and

· Avoiding close contact (like kissing and hugging) with people who are infected.

For more information, visit: or call the Independence Health Department at 325-7185.