Hand-foot-and-mouth disease — a mild, contagious viral infection common in young children — is characterized by sores in the mouth and a rash on the hands and feet. Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is most commonly caused by a coxsackievirus.
There’s no specific treatment for hand-foot-and-mouth disease. Frequent hand-washing and avoiding close contact with people who are infected with hand-foot-and-mouth disease may help reduce your child’s risk of infection.
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease may cause all of the following signs and symptoms or just some of them. They include:
- Sore throat
- Feeling of being unwell (malaise)
- Painful, red, blister-like lesions on the tongue, gums and inside of the cheeks
- A red rash, without itching but sometimes with blistering, on the palms, soles and sometimes the buttocks
- Irritability in infants and toddlers
- Loss of appetite
The usual period from initial infection to the onset of signs and symptoms (incubation period) is three to six days. A fever is often the first sign of hand-foot-and-mouth disease, followed by a sore throat and sometimes a poor appetite and malaise.
One or two days after the fever begins, painful sores may develop in the front of the mouth or throat. A rash on the hands and feet and possibly on the buttocks can follow within one or two days.
Sores that develop in the back of the mouth and throat may suggest that your child is infected with a related viral illness called herpangina. Other distinguishing features of herpangina include a sudden high fever and in some instances, seizure. Sores that develop on the hands, feet or other parts of the body are very rare.
What is hand, foot, and mouth disease?
Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a highly contagious infection. It’s caused by viruses from the Enterovirus genus, most commonly the coxsackievirus. These viruses can spread from person-to-person through direct contact with unwashed hands or surfaces contaminated with feces. It can also be transmitted through contact with an infected person’s saliva, stool, or respiratory secretions.
Hand, foot, and mouth disease is characterized by blisters or sores in the mouth and a rash on the hands and feet. The infection can affect people of all ages, but it usually occurs in children under age 5. It is generally a mild condition that goes away on its own within several days.
What are the symptoms of hand, foot, and mouth disease?
The symptoms begin to develop three to seven days after the initial infection. This period is known as the incubation period. When symptoms do appear, you or your child may experience:
- a fever
- a poor appetite
- a sore throat
- a headache
- painful, red blisters in the mouth
- a red rash on the hands and the soles of the feet
A fever and sore throat are usually the first symptoms of hand, foot, and mouth disease. The characteristic blisters and rashes show up later, usually one or two days after the fever begins.
What causes hand, foot, and mouth disease?
Hand, foot, and mouth disease is often caused by a strain of coxsackievirus, most commonly coxsackievirus A16. The coxsackievirus is part of a group of viruses called enteroviruses. In some cases, other types of enteroviruses can cause hand, foot, and mouth disease.
Viruses can be easily spread from person-to-person. You or your child may contract hand, foot, and mouth disease through contact with an infected person’s:
- fluid from blisters
- respiratory droplets sprayed into the air after coughing or sneezing
Hand, foot, and mouth disease can also be transmitted through direct contact with unwashed hands or a surface containing traces of the virus.
Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a common childhood virus that pediatricians, child care centers and preschools see in summer and early fall.
Most parents want to know what exactly hand, foot, and mouth disease is, how to help their child cope with the discomfort it causes, and most of all when their child can go back to child care or school. Read on for answers to these and more frequently asked questions.