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Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 2, 2022.

What is it?

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD) is caused by the Coxsackie (cok-SACK-e) virus (germ). HFMD is most often caught by children under 10 years old, but people of any age can get it. Children with HFMD usually get a fever first, then red spots with blisters in the middle. HFMD blisters may form in the mouth and on the tongue, hands, feet, or buttocks. HFMD lasts about 10 days and is usually caught in the summer or early fall. Your child cannot catch HFMD from animals.

How did my child catch HFMD?

HFMD spreads quickly through schools and families. Your child may get HFMD 3 to 7 days after coming into contact with the germ. HFMD is spread in the following ways:

  • Mouth and Nose secretions (suh-CREE-shuns). This includes tiny droplets that come out of your child's nose and mouth when he breathes. It includes mucus from a runny nose or saliva (suh-LIE-vuh) from your child's mouth (spit). Your child can catch HFMD from eating with a person infected with HFMD or sharing toys with them.
  • Bowel movements (BMs). If your child has HFMD, your child can spread the virus by touching things with his hands after having a BM. You can spread HFMD by not washing your hands after changing your child's diaper. You can spread it from wiping your child's bottom after a BM.
  • Blisters. The pus (liquid) inside the blisters may spread the HFMD virus if they break or are popped open.

What does HFMD look like?

  • HFMD usually starts with a fever of about 100 to 102°F (37.8 to 38.9°C) from 1 to 3 days before spots appear. Your child may have a sore throat. Your child may be tired, fussy, and not very hungry. This is the time when your child is most likely to spread the virus to others.
  • Next, red spots appear that form water-filled blisters in the middle. Blisters may form on your child's tongue or in his mouth. Often, mouth blisters pop and become painful ulcers (sores). Blisters may form on the bottoms of your child's feet, palms of his hands, or between his fingers or toes. They may also form on your child's buttocks.

What is the treatment for HFMD?

There is no cure for HFMD. You may treat your child's discomfort in the following ways:

  • Treat pain and fever. Ask your child's caregiver what medicines can be given to your child for fever or pain relief of mouth sores. Never give your child aspirin without asking a caregiver first. Giving aspirin to your child when he is ill may cause a very serious illness called Reye's syndrome.
  • Feed your child soft foods that are not salty, spicy, or tart. Salty, spicy, or tart foods may cause more mouth pain. Offer soft, mild foods like yogurt, pudding, milkshakes, mashed potatoes, or applesauce. Try to help your child drink as much water, milk, and clear liquids as possible. To make drinking easier, serve your child cool or room-temperature drinks. Have your child drink from a straw if he has sores on his lips or tongue. Serve drinks in a cup, since sucking from a bottle could be painful.
  • Provide relief for mouth sores and ulcers. You may try using numbing gels from the grocery or drug store. Ask your child's caregiver about an antacid solution to help your child's mouth sores feel better.

How do I keep others from catching HFMD from my child?

  • Wash your hands often. Wash your hands and your child's hands after changing diapers or wiping after a BM. Wash hands before working in the kitchen and especially after caring for your child with HFMD. Make sure all your children wash their hands before eating and after going to the bathroom. Hands should also be washed after wiping off saliva (spit) or nose drippings.
  • Do not share food or personal items. Do not share cups or eat from the same bowls, plates, or utensils. Do not take a bite out of the same food. Do not share toothbrushes.
  • Disinfect kitchen and bathroom countertops and toys. On countertops, use a solution of 1 capful bleach in 1 gallon water or use cleanser that contains bleach. Use hot, soapy water to wash any toys that your child puts in his mouth before and after play.
  • Tell others that they have been exposed. Contact your child's school or daycare center. Tell them that your child's classmates have been exposed to HFMD.
  • Keep your child away from others while he has a fever or feels ill. Your child may return to school after his fever is gone and he does not feel sick anymore. Also, the red blisters should be dry and crusted over.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers. Work with them to decide what care may be used to treat your child.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.