Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a mild yet contagious viral infection that commonly affects children. Anyone can get the disease, but children under age 10 are most likely to catch it. HFMD is most commonly caused by a coxsackievirus. There is no specific treatment for this, but frequent hand washing and avoiding close contact with people infected with the HFMD may reduce the risk of infection.
The most common viruses that usually cause HFMD are named coxsakievirus a16 and enterovirus 71. The coxsackievirus belongs to a group of viruses called nonpolio enteroviruses.
Oral ingestion is the main source of infection. The illness spreads by person-to-person contact with an infected person’s nasal secretions or throat discharge, saliva, fluid from blisters, stool, and respiratory droplets sprayed into the air after a cough or sneeze.
Early symptoms may include fever and sore throat, painful blisters similar to cold sores on the inside of the child’s mouth usually in the back portion or the tongue. There will also be rashes on the palms and the soles of the feet a day or two after the first symptoms appear. The rashes may turn into blisters, while flat spots or sores may appear on the knees, elbows, or buttocks.
The doctor will check for any sores or rashes, but it is usually difficult to decide if it’s HFMD. Other doctors might take a throat swab or a stool or blood sample to be sure.
HFMD usually goes away on its own after 7 to 10 days. There is no treatment or vaccine for this but symptoms may be relieved with over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or numbing mouth sprays. Doctors do not advise the use of aspirin for pain, as it can cause serious illness in children. Anti-itch lotions like calamine, can help against rashes.
A child infected with HFMD is contagious in the first 7 days. However, the virus can still stay in the body for days or weeks after the symptoms go away. It could also spread through their spit or stool. The best way to prevent is to wash the hands thoroughly.
The most common complication of HFMD is dehydration. If dehydration is severe, intravenous fluids may be necessary. HFMD is usually a minor illness, but sometimes, a rare form of the coxsackievirus can involve the brain and cause other complications such as viral meningitis, which is the infection and inflammation of the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, and encephalitis, a severe and potentially life-threatening disease that involves brain inflammation caused by a virus.
- Wash hands frequently and thoroughly
- Disinfect common areas
- Teach proper hygiene
- Isolate people with HFMD
Note: Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is not the same as foot-and-mouth disease, which comes from a different virus and only affects animals.