6 Things to Know About Hand Foot and Mouth Disease

The feet of a child with hand foot and mouth disease

Hand foot and mouth disease is a common childhood illness that parents of young children should learn how to identify. Continue reading for six important nuggets of information about this viral illness from Renown Children’s Hospital pediatrician Jose Cucalon Calderon, MD, FAAP.

1. What are the symptoms of hand foot and mouth disease?

The first symptoms of hand foot and mouth disease are fever, sore throat, fatigue and runny nose. These early symptoms are similar to the common cold and flu, so you may not even realize your child has hand foot and mouth disease until more recognizable secondary symptoms appear. These symptoms include “blisters around the mouth including the inner gums, tongue and throat,” describes Cucalon. You may also notice a bumpy red rash on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and buttocks. “Sometimes the whole body can be covered in this rash.”

2. Should I take my child to the doctor if they have symptoms of hand foot and mouth disease?

Most patients don’t require a trip to the doctor and recover after a few days of rest at home. However, if symptoms persist for more than three days, Cucalon recommends going to a physician for evaluation. Another major concern is dehydration. If your child refuses to drink due to the painful sores in their mouth, you should take them to see a doctor.

3. Is this strictly a pediatric illness or can adults be infected too?

Hand foot and mouth disease most commonly affects children under the age of five, however older children and adults can be infected as well. Parents of young children and daycare workers are the adult groups most likely to be infected. If you child has symptoms of hand foot and mouth disease, read the tips below to avoid getting sick.

4. How does hand foot and mouth disease spread?

Hand foot and mouth disease is contagious and spreads after contact with an infected person’s saliva, mucus or feces. This condition is most contagious during the first week of symptoms.

5. Is there a way to prevent the spread of this illness?

The most important thing parents can do to prevent the spread of hand foot and mouth disease is to keep their child at home when they have a fever. Fever is often a sign that your child has contracted a virus and is contagious.

The viruses that cause hand foot and mouth disease cannot be killed with hand sanitizer, so it’s necessary for both the patient and their caregivers to frequently wash their hands with soap and water. It’s especially important to thoroughly wash your hands and the child’s hands after diaper changes or bathroom visits. To avoid a saliva transmission, do not kiss your child on the lips or share food, drinks or utensils!

Related: Avoid Viruses, Colds and the Flu with Expert Hand-Washing Advice

6. How soon can my child return to daycare or school?

If your child has been free of fever for over 24 hours and the rash isn’t getting worse, that means there’s less chance of contagion and they can return to school or daycare if they feel well enough. The virus may still be present in saliva and stools for up to three weeks, so it’s important to avoid sharing food and maintain excellent hand-washing habits for several weeks.

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