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Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

This fact sheet answers frequently asked questions about Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease.

Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is an illness caused by a group of viruses called enteroviruses. This disease is most common in children under 5 years of age; but it can occur in adults.

The basics

How is HFMD diagnosed?
A health care provider can diagnose HFMD by looking at the blisters on the body and the mouth sores in a person with a fever. Although there are laboratory tests available, they are rarely used.

How do people catch HFMD?
HFMD lives in the stool, nose (mucus) and throat (spit, sputum) of an infected person. You can catch it by directly or indirectly:

  • Breathing in air contaminated with the virus after an infected person close to you has sneezed or coughed
  • Touching the stool of an infected person (ex. changing a diaper)
  • Touching the nose (mucus) and throat (spit, sputum) of an infected person and touching your own eyes, nose, or mouth
  • Touching objects like toys and door handles contaminated by the virus

Infected people are most contagious during the first week of the illness. However, the virus can remain in the body for weeks after a person’s symptoms are gone. This means that infected people can still pass the infection to others even if they appear well.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of HFMD?
It usually takes 3-6 days for a person to have symptoms after infection. Signs and symptoms of HFMD may include:

  • Fever
  • Poor appetite
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Small painful blisters inside the mouth on tongue, inside of the cheeks, and gums (last 4 to 6 days)
  • Rash or blisters on the palms of hands, on fingers, and on the soles of the feet for 7 to 10 days
  • Blisters may also appear on the knees, elbows, buttocks, or genital area

Some people may not get all the symptoms of the disease. Children may become dehydrated if they are not able to swallow liquids due to painful mouth sores.

Prevention

How can I prevent HFMD?
There is no vaccine for HFMD; but you can lower your risk of infection by:

  • Washing your hands with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom
  • Careful disposal of diapers and any soiled articles
  • Wear gloves when applying lotions or treatment to blisters/sores
  • Clean and disinfect all shared toys and diaper changing areas. First wash with soap and water then disinfect with one solution of chlorine bleach made by mixing 1 tablespoon of beach with 4 cups of water
  • Avoid close contact (kissing, hugging, sharing cups) with infected persons

Should you exclude sick children or staff from school or daycare?
Children who have a fever should stay home for 24 hours after the fever has gone away without fever reducing medicine. Children who do not feel well enough to participate in activities should also stay home. Adults who have a fever or who do not feel well enough to provide care should also remain at home.

Treatment

How is HFMD treated?
There is no treatment for HFMD but taking over the counter medications can relieve some of the symptoms. Do not give aspirin to children.

  • Staying hydrated is important, give your child cool fluids
  • Avoid spicy or acidic foods and drinks since they may make sores in the mouth more painful
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