Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is a common childhood illness. It causes
sores in the mouth and on the hands, feet, and sometimes the buttocks and legs.
Mouth sores can be painful and may make it hard for your child to eat. The
disease is not serious, and it usually goes away in a week or so.
It can occur at any time of year, but hand-foot-and-mouth disease is most
common in the summer and fall.
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is
not the same as other diseases that have similar names:
foot-and-mouth disease (sometimes called
hoof-and-mouth disease) or
mad cow disease. These diseases almost always occur in
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is caused by a virus called an
The virus spreads easily
through coughing and sneezing. You can also get it by coming in contact with
infected stool, such as when you change a diaper. Often the disease breaks out
within a community. Children are most likely to spread the disease during the
first week of the illness. But the virus stays in the stool and can sometimes
spread to others for several months after the blisters and sores have
It usually takes 3 to 6 days for a person to get symptoms
of hand-foot-and-mouth disease after being exposed to the virus. This is called
the incubation period.
At first your child may
feel tired, get a sore throat, or have a fever of around
101 F (38 C) to
103 F (39 C). Then in a day or
two, your child may get sores or blisters on the hands, feet, mouth, and
sometimes the buttocks. In some cases a child will get a skin rash before the
blisters appear. The blisters may break open and crust over. The sores and
blisters usually go away in a week or so.
doctor can tell if your child has hand-foot-and-mouth disease by the symptoms
you describe and by looking at the sores and blisters.
does not usually need treatment. Most cases go away in 7 to 10 days. You can
use home care to help relieve your child’s symptoms.
To help prevent the disease from spreading:
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about hand-foot-and-mouth disease:
Living with hand-foot-and-mouth disease:
hand-foot-and-mouth disease begin with a sudden onset
of sore throat and a fever of around
101 F (38.3 C) to
103 F (39.4 C). A child usually
feels tired, not hungry, and generally unwell. About 1 or 2 days later, the
child starts developing other symptoms that include:
Most children fully recover after the blisters have healed.
In rare cases, skin sores come back and medical treatment is needed.
Adults who are infected with hand-foot-and-mouth disease may not be aware
of it because they usually do not have symptoms. If symptoms develop, they are
usually milder than those seen in children.
Your child's doctor can usually
hand-foot-and-mouth disease by the distinctive sores
and blisters. Your description of any other symptoms your child has is also
Tests are not usually needed. Sometimes a doctor may want
to confirm the type of virus present by examining a sample of blister tissue or
hand-foot-and-mouth disease is not usually needed. In
general, symptoms of the disease go away in 7 to 10 days without
You may choose to treat your child's symptoms to soothe
discomfort and pain caused by sore throat, fever, or pain from blisters.
Appropriate medicine choices include:
Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20 unless directed to do so by your doctor. Aspirin use is linked to a
rare but serious disease,
Reye syndrome, that most often occurs in children and
People who have certain problems with their
immune system (antibody deficiencies) and get
hand-foot-and-mouth disease may be treated with
intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG).
symptoms do not improve in about a week, see your doctor.
goes away on its own without any treatment in about 7 to 10
days. You can help your child feel better during the course of the illness with
some basic home treatment measures.
Your child will be contagious during the course of the
illness, which lasts 7 to 10 days. But the virus remains in the feces (stools)
and can spread to others for up to 2 months after the blisters and sores have
healed. Be especially careful to use good hygiene for several months after your
child is better.
To help prevent the disease from
The CDC Division of Viral Diseases provides factual
information on enteroviruses and the diseases they can cause (including
hand-foot-and-mouth disease and viral meningitis).
Other Works Consulted
Belazarian L, et al. (2008). Hand-foot-and-mouth
disease section of Exanthematous viral diseases. In K Wolff et al., eds.,
Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine, 7th ed.,
vol. 2, chap. 192, pp. 1867–1869. New York: McGraw-Hill Medical.
Khetsuriani N, Parashar UD (2006). Enteric viral
infections. In DC Dale, DD Federman, eds., ACP Medicine,
section 7, chap. 28. New York: WebMD.
Rotbart HA (2003). Enteroviruses. In CD Rudolph et
al., eds., Rudolph's Pediatrics, 21st ed., pp.
1020–1023. New York: McGraw-Hill.
February 24, 2010
Michael J. Sexton, MD - Pediatrics
& W. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease
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