What is Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?
Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is a viral infection that most commonly affects young children, but it can also affect adults. It’s characterized by the rash associated with it – small red dots on children’s hands and feet – as well as sores in their mouths. It’s commonly spread through sneezing, coughing, or saliva – making it common in settings where children are in close proximity to one another, such as daycares and schools.
This contagious virus is not usually serious, but its symptoms can be unpleasant. Although there is no treatment for HFMD, there are over-the-counter and prescribed medications that can help relieve symptoms.
Symptoms of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease
Symptoms of HFMD can vary, depending on its severity. They include:
- Loss of appetite
- Sore throat
- Sores in the mouth
- Rash and/or blisters
Symptoms typically begin with a fever. After one or two days, symptoms progress to sores on the tongue, cheeks, or gums as well as a rash typically found on the soles of feet and the palms of hands.
Since sores in the mouth can become painful and make it difficult to swallow, dehydration is a concern for young children.
While these are common signs and symptoms, children who have HFMD may exhibit little or no symptoms, but they can still pass the virus on to others.
Diagnosing Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease
Medical professionals can help make the diagnosis by observation, a careful history, and a physical exam. They may also decide to collect samples to send for lab testing as sores can be caused by diseases other than HFMD.
Treating Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease
HFMD does not require any specific treatment, as a viral illness antibiotic will not help. The good news, though, is that the virus doesn’t linger, and the fever and rash should taper off after seven to ten days. However, there are measures you can take to treat the unpleasant symptoms in the meantime:
- Take over-the-counter medication to relieve fever and pain. Before starting a new medication, consult your healthcare provider to determine if taking certain medications are appropriate for you.
- Over-the-counter medications are also available to help numb mouth pain. Caution should be used with children due to potential side-effects and difficulty of application.
- Stay hydrated and get plenty of rest.
Preventing Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease
Simple hygiene habits can go a long way in preventing HFMD.
- Handwashing is very important for both treatment and prevention. Thoroughly wash both your and your child’s hands frequently with soap and warm water.
- Disinfect toys, play areas, and bathrooms often and increase cleaning frequency if your child has HFMD or other children are diagnosed with it.
- Avoid close contact, including hugs, kisses, and shared utensils when someone has HFMD.
- If your child has HFMD, keep them home until their fever is gone, so that they don’t spread the infection to other children at school or daycare.