Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease
Hand, foot, and mouth disease, or HFMD, is a contagious illness caused by different viruses. Infants and children younger than 5 years are more likely to get this disease. However, older children and adults can also get it. In the United States and other countries with changing seasons, it is more common for people to get hand, foot, and mouth disease from spring to fall.
- Usually causes fever, painful sores in the mouth, and a rash on the hands and feet
- Is moderately contagious
- Mostly affects infants and children younger than 5 years, but people of any age can be infected
- Has no specific treatment
- Infection risk can be reduced by practicing good hygiene, such as washing hands often
- Is not the same as foot-and-mouth disease
What Are the Symptoms?
Symptoms usually begin with a fever, reduced appetite, sore throat, and a feeling of being unwell. A day or two after the fever starts, painful sores can develop in the mouth. A skin rash with flat red spots may also develop on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. This can sometimes occur on the knees, elbows, and buttocks as well. This rash may blister but usually won’t itch.
Not everyone will get all of these symptoms. Some people may only have a rash; some may only have mouth sores. Other people may show no symptoms at all, but they can still pass the virus to others.
Is It Serious?
Hand, foot, and mouth disease is usually not serious. The illness is typically mild, and nearly all patients recover in 7 to 10 days without medical treatment. Complications are uncommon. Rarely, an infected person can develop viral meningitis (characterized by fever, headache, stiff neck, or back pain) and may need to be hospitalized for a few days. Other rare complications can include polio-like paralysis or encephalitis (brain inflammation), which can be fatal.
Is It Contagious?
Yes. The viruses that cause hand, foot, and mouth disease can be found in an infected person’s:
- nose and throat secretions (such as saliva, sputum, or nasal mucus),
- blister fluid, and
- feces (stool).
The viruses can spread from an infected person to others through:
- close contact, such as kissing, hugging, or sharing cups and eating utensils,
- coughing and sneezing,
- contact with feces, which can happen during diaper changing,
- contact with blister fluid, and
- touching objects or surfaces that have the virus on them.
People with hand, foot, and mouth disease are most contagious during the first week of their illness. However, they can sometimes be contagious for weeks after symptoms go away. Some people, especially adults, who get infected with the viruses that cause the disease may not develop any symptoms. However, they can still spread the virus to others.
Who Is at Risk?
Hand, foot, and mouth disease mostly affects infants and children younger than 5 years old. However, older children and adults can get it, too. When people get hand, foot, and mouth disease, they usually develop immunity to the specific virus that caused their infection. However, because it can be caused by several different viruses, people can get the disease again.
Can It Be Treated?
There is no specific treatment for hand, foot and mouth disease. Fever and pain can be managed with over-the-counter fever reducers/pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. It is important to drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration (loss of body fluids).
Can It Be Prevented?
There is no vaccine to protect against hand, foot, and mouth disease. However, you can reduce the risk of getting infected with the viruses that cause it by following a few simple steps:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after changing diapers.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact (kissing, hugging, sharing cups and eating utensils) with people who are infected.
- Disinfect frequently touched surfaces (toys, doorknobs, etc.), especially if someone is sick.
Is Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease the Same as Foot-and-Mouth Disease?
No. Hand, foot, and mouth disease is often confused with foot-and-mouth disease (also called hoof-and-mouth disease), which affects cattle, sheep, and pigs. Humans do not get the animal disease, and animals do not get the human disease. For more information, see the U.S. Department of Agriculture fact sheet, Foot-and-Mouth Disease [PDF - 49.5 KB].
- About Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease
- Clean Hands Save Lives! (handwashing tips)
- Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease [PODCAST - 4:20 minutes]
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