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When Your Child Has Hand, Foot, and Mouth DiseaseOpen mouth showing sore on back of roof of mouth. Closeup of palm of hand showing red rash.

Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is a common viral infection in children. It can cause mouth sores and a painless rash on the hands, feet, or buttocks. HFMD can be easily spread from one person to another. It occurs more often in children under 10 years old, but anyone can get it. HFMD is often mistaken for strep throat because the symptoms of both conditions are similar. Though HFMD can cause some discomfort, it’s not a serious problem. Most cases can easily be managed and treated at home.

What causes hand, foot, and mouth disease?

HFMD is usually caused by the coxsackievirus. It can also be caused by other viruses in the same family as coxsackievirus. Your child may have caught HFMD in one of the following ways:

  • Breathing infected air (the virus can enter the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks).

  • Contact with items contaminated with stool from an infected person. Contamination can occur when an infected person doesn’t wash his or her hands after having a bowel movement or changing a diaper.

  • Contact with fluid from the blisters that are part of the rash (this mode of transmission is rare).

What are the symptoms of hand, foot, and mouth disease?

Symptoms usually appear 24 to 72 hours after exposure. They include:

  • Rash (small, red bumps or blisters on the hands, feet, or buttocks)

  • Mouth sores that often occur on the gums, tongue, inside the cheeks, and in the back of the throat (mouth sores may not occur in some children)

  • Sore throat

  • A nonspecific rash over the rest of the body

  • Fever

  • Loss of appetite

  • Pain when swallowing; drooling

How is hand, foot, and mouth disease diagnosed?

HFMD is diagnosed by how the rash and mouth sores look. To get more information, the health care provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she will also examine your child. You will be told if any tests are needed to rule out other infections.

How is hand, foot, and mouth disease treated?

  • The illness generally lasts about 7 to 10 days. Your child is no longer contagious 24 hours after the fever is gone.

  • There is no specific treatment for HFMD. You can do the following at home to relieve your child’s symptoms:

    • Give your child over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to treat pain and fever. Do not give ibuprofen to an infant 6 months of age or younger. Do not give aspirin to a child with a fever. This can put your child at risk of a serious illness called Reye’s syndrome.Girl taking pill and holding glass of water. Woman standing next to her is stirring salt into another glass of water.

    • Cold liquids, ice, or frozen juice bars may help soothe mouth pain. Avoid giving your child spicy or acidic foods.

  • The following treatments can also be used for children over the age of 4:

    • Apply small amounts of an OTC numbing gel to mouth sores to relieve pain. The gel can cause a brief sting when applied.

    • Have your child rinse his or her mouth with saltwater or with baking soda and warm water, then spit. The mouth rinse should not be swallowed.

When to seek medical care

Call the doctor if your otherwise healthy child has any of the following:

  • A mouth sore that doesn’t go away within 14 days

  • Increased mouth pain

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Neck pain

  • Chest pain

  • Trouble breathing

  • Weakness

  • Lack of energy

  • Signs of infection around the rash or mouth sores (pus, drainage, or swelling)

  • Signs of dehydration (very dark or little urine, excessive thirst, dry mouth, dizziness)

  • In a child 3 to 36 months, a rectal temperature of 102°F (39.0°C) or higher

  • In a child of any age who has a repeated temperature of 104°F (40.0°C) or higher

  • A fever that lasts more than 24-hours in a child under 2 years old, or for 3 days in a child 2 years or older

  • A seizure


How can hand, foot, and mouth disease be prevented?

Follow these steps to keep your child from passing HFMD on to others:

  • Teach your child to wash his or her hands with soap and warm water often. Handwashing is especially important before eating or handling food, after using the bathroom, and after touching the rash. A child is very contagious during the first week of the illness and he or she can still be contagious for days to weeks after the illness resolves.

  • Your child should remain at home while he or she is sick with hand, foot, and mouth disease. Discuss with your child's health care provider how long you should keep your child from attending school or daycare or playing with others.

  • Do not allow your child to share cups, utensils, napkins, or personal items such as towels and toothbrushes with others.


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