Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is a common infection in children that causes sores called ulcers inside or around their mouth and a rash or blisters on their hands, feet, legs, or buttocks.
It is a viral disease that is not serious and usually disappears by itself after a week, but it is very contagious. It is most common in late summer and autumn and mainly affects children under age 5, though adults can also be infected.
(NB: HFMD is not the same thing as foot-and-mouth disease, which comes from a different virus and affects only animals.)
The viruses that usually cause hand, foot, and mouth are named coxsackievirus a16 and enterovirus 71. The infection is most common in late summer and autumn. It is very contagious and passes through close contact, especially through the hands. Anyone can have the disease, but children under age 5 are most likely to get it. Anyone who has had hand, foot, and mouth disease once will not get it again.
Some children can carry the virus that causes hand, foot, and mouth disease without getting any symptoms. But for most, the disease begins with the following symptoms, three to five days after exposure.
- poor appetite
- feeling generally unwell
- sore throat
One to two days after these initial symptoms, a blister-like rash develops on the hands, feet and in the mouth usually. At first they look like a red ring and then develop into vesicular sores with blisters. They are itchy and sore and can also break open, causing small wounds.
Your child is most contagious in the first 7 days of illness, even before the blisters have formed. But the virus can stay in their body for days or weeks and spread through their saliva or faeces. Therefore it is important to maintain good hygiene to lower the risk of infection.
Prevention and protection
Practicing good hygiene is the best defense against hand, foot, and mouth disease. Regular hand-washing can greatly reduce your risk of contracting this virus.
Teach your children how to wash their hands using hot water and soap. Hands should always be washed after using the restroom, before eating, and after being out in public. Children should also be taught not to put their hands or other objects in or near their mouths.
There’s no cure or vaccine for hand, foot, and mouth disease. Because a virus causes it, antibiotics won’t help, but it usually goes away naturally after 7 to 10 days. In the meantime, you can help your child feel better with:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or paracetamol or numbing mouth sprays. (Don’t use aspirin because it can cause serious illness in children.)
- Cold treats like ice lollies, yogurt, or smoothies to soothe a sore throat. Avoid juice and soda, which have acids that might irritate the sores.
- Avoid anything that is salty or sour.
- Anti-itch lotion, like calamine, for rashes
- non-prescription ointments for sore skin
When to consult a doctor
Seek care if your child has:
- blisters/ulcers around the mouth together with high fever
- fever that rises rapidly
- headache with fever
- severe abdominal pain
- difficult breathing.
How APPOTEK can help
- Individual assessment and prescriptions if needed.