Causes & Transmission

Hand, foot, and mouth disease spreads easily through

  • Person to person contact
  • The air when an infected person coughs or sneezes
  • Contact with contaminated surfaces and objects

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is contagious

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is caused by viruses. A person infected with one of these viruses is contagious, which means that they can pass the virus to other people.

The virus can spread to others through an infected person’s

  • Nose and throat secretions, such as saliva, sputum, or nasal mucus
  • Fluid from blisters or scabs
  • Feces (poop)

People with hand, foot, and mouth disease are usually most contagious during the first week that they are sick. People can sometimes spread the virus to others for days or weeks after symptoms go away or if they have no symptoms at all.

Three babies playing with blocks

How it spreads

You can get hand, foot, and mouth disease by

  • Breathing air after a sick person coughs or sneezes
  • Touching a sick person or making other close contact, like kissing, hugging, or sharing cups or eating utensils
  • Touching a sick person’s feces, such as changing diapers, then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
  • Touching objects and surfaces that have the virus on them, like doorknobs or toys, then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth

Rarely, you can also get the viruses by swallowing recreational water, such as water in swimming pools. This can happen if the water is not properly treated with chlorine and becomes contaminated with feces from a person who has hand, foot, and mouth disease.

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease is Common

  • In summer and fall in the U.S., but you can get it any time of year.
  • In schools and day cares. Children should stay home while they have symptoms of hand, foot, and mouth disease.

Viruses that cause hand, foot, and mouth disease

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is caused by viruses that belong to the Enterovirus family.

Common causes of hand, foot, and mouth disease are:

  • Coxsackievirus A16 is typically the most common cause of hand, foot, and mouth disease in the United States. Other coxsackieviruses can also cause the illness.
  • Coxsackievirus A6 can also cause HFMD and the symptoms may be more severe.
  • Enterovirus 71 (EV-A71) has been associated with cases and outbreaks in East and Southeast Asia. Although very rare, EV-A71 has been associated with more severe diseases, such as encephalitis.
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Animals do not get hand, foot, and mouth disease

Animals such as cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats can get foot and mouth disease (or hoof and mouth disease), which is different than hand, foot, and mouth disease.

Visit the USDA website to learn more about foot and mouth diseasepdf iconexternal icon.

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Prevent HFMD from spreading

  • Wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
Prevent HFMD
Wash Your Hands

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Wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds to stop germs from spreading.

When and How to Wash Your Hands