Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD)

Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is a viral infection caused by coxsackievirus A16. It is spread through oral ingestion of nasal or throat secretions, saliva, stool or other bodily fluids. It is very common in childcare settings. Adults can become infected with the virus but they usually don’t have symptoms.
HFMD is different from foot-and-mouth disease which affects livestock. The two disease are caused by different viruses and cannot be passed between humans and animals.

Symptoms of HFMD

Children with HFMD can have some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Fever,
  • Sore throat,
  • Malaise,
  • Muscle aches,
  • Painful, red, blisters on the throat, tongue, gums and inside of the cheeks,
  • Painful, red, blisters on the throat, tongue, gums and inside of the cheeks,
  • A red rash on the palms, soles of the feet and buttocks,
  • Irritability in infants and toddlers,
  • Decreased appetite.

A fever is usually the first symptom followed by a sore throat and malaise. Blisters typically start one to two days after the fever. Some children will only develop blisters in their throats so it can be difficult for parents to know what’s wrong. If a child eats or drinks less than usual or only wants to drink cold things, it could be a sign of HFMD. Symptoms usually last three to five days.

Should My Child See a Doctor?

HFMD is usually a very mild illness that shouldn’t require a doctor’s appointment.
However, if the mouth blisters prevent your child from eating or drinking or if your child’s symptoms don’t improve within five days, contact your pediatrician. A pharmacist can make a solution called “magic mouthwash” to help numb the blisters, but it requires a doctor’s order.

Very rarely, children can develop meningitis or encephalitis as a result of HFMD. Some children lose toenails a few weeks after having HFMD but the nails will grow back.

Can HFMD be Prevented?

HFMD is a highly contagious illness for which there is no vaccine. It is very common among children under the age of 5 who spend time in close quarters at daycare or preschool. Keep kids home from school as long as they have blisters. However, the
virus can be passed to others through a child’s stool for several weeks.

Frequent hand washing, especially after diaper changes, will help control the spread of HFMD. You should also wash your child’s hands after diaper changes. Routinely disinfect toys and pacifiers since germs can live on hard surfaces for several days.