What is Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease?
Hand, foot and mouth disease is a viral infection that most often impacts young children, but adults can also get it. It’s characterized by the rash that goes along with it – small red dots on children’s hands and feet – as well as sores in their mouths, and often the diaper area. It’s commonly spread through sneezing, coughing or saliva – making it common in settings where children are close to one another, such as daycares and schools.
This contagious virus is not usually serious, but its symptoms can be unpleasant. Although there is no treatment for HFMD, there are over-the-counter and prescribed medications that can help ease symptoms.
Symptoms of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease
Symptoms of HFMD can vary, depending on its severity. They include:
- Loss of appetite
- Sore throat
- Sores in the mouth
- Rash and/or blisters
Symptoms typically begin with a fever. After one or two days, symptoms progress to sores on the tongue, cheeks or gums as well as a rash typically found on the soles of feet and the palms of hands.
Since sores in the mouth can become painful and make it difficult to swallow, dehydration is a concern for kids, especially children under age 3.
While these are common signs and symptoms, children who have HFMD may show little or no symptoms, but they can still pass the virus on to others.
Medical professionals can diagnose HFMD by observation, a careful history and a physical exam. They may also decide to collect samples to send for lab testing as sores or red spots can be caused by diseases other than HFMD.
Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease Treatment
HFMD does not require any specific treatment, as a viral illness antibiotic will not help. The good news, though, is that the virus doesn’t linger and the fever and rash should be self limited after seven to ten days. However, there are measures you can take to treat the unpleasant symptoms in the meantime:
- Take over-the-counter medication to relieve fever and pain. Before starting a new medication, check with your health care provider to determine if taking certain medications are appropriate for you.
- Over-the-counter medications are also available to help numb mouth pain. Caution should be used with children due to potential side-effects and difficulty of application.
- Stay hydrated. Popsicles hydrate for kids who can manage them and may feel good on a sore mouth.
- Get plenty of rest.
Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease Prevention
Simple hygiene habits can go a long way in preventing HFMD:
- Handwashing is very important for both treatment and prevention. Thoroughly wash both your and your child’s hands frequently – especially after eating and drinking or any time they cough or sneeze – with soap and warm water. If you don’t have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Disinfect toys, play areas and bathrooms often and increase cleaning frequency if your child has HFMD or other children are diagnosed with it.
- Avoid close contact, such as sharing utensils and toys or hugging and kissing, with anyone who has HFMD. If your child has HFMD, they should stay home until their fever is gone, so that they don’t spread the infection to other children at school or daycare.