Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease in Children

What is hand-foot-and-mouth disease in children?

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is an illness caused by a virus. It causes a rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Small blisters also occur in the mouth, often at the back of the throat. The rash may also occur in the diaper area, and on the legs and arms.

What causes hand-foot-and-mouth disease in a child?

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is caused by a virus. The most common viruses that cause it include:

  • Coxsackievirus A16
  • Enterovirus A71

The virus is often spread through fecal-oral transmission but may also be spread by respiratory secretions. Transmission is most often due to not washing hands correctly, particularly after changing diapers or using the bathroom. Handwashing is key to help prevent the spread of the disease.

Which children are at risk for hand-foot-and-mouth disease?

This disease is very common in children. A child younger than age 10 is most at risk.

What are the symptoms of hand-foot-and-mouth disease in a child?

Symptoms can be a bit different for each child. They can include:

  • Blisters in the mouth, often near the throat and tonsils. It can also happen on the gums and sides of the tongue.
  • Small blisters on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet, or both
  • Small blisters in the diaper area
  • Rash on the arms and legs
  • Fever
  • Lack of appetite
  • Generally not feeling well
  • Sore throat

The symptoms of hand-foot-and-mouth disease are often unique. But some symptoms may be caused by other health problems. Have your child see their healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is hand-foot-and-mouth disease diagnosed in a child?

The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. They will give your child a physical exam. The physical exam will include looking at the rash. The rash is unique to hand-foot-and-mouth disease. The rash may be enough to diagnose your child. In some cases, your child may also have a throat culture or stool sample sent to a lab for testing.

How is hand-foot-and-mouth disease treated in a child?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. Antibiotics aren't used to treat this illness.

The goal of treatment is to help reduce symptoms. Symptoms may last up to a week. Treatment may include:

  • Making sure your child drinks plenty of cold fluids to help soothe mouth pain
  • Giving acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever and mild pain
  • Using a mouth rinse or spray that has a pain reliever to help reduce mouth pain. Use this only if your child's healthcare provider says it’s OK to do so. Don't use regular mouthwash, because it may hurt.

Talk with your child's healthcare provider about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medicines. Don't give ibuprofen to a child younger than 6 months old, unless the provider tells you to.

Don’t give aspirin (or medicine that contains aspirin) to a child younger than age 19 unless directed by your child’s provider. Taking aspirin can put your child at risk for Reye syndrome. This is a rare but very serious disorder. It most often affects the brain and the liver.

How can I help prevent hand-foot-and-mouth disease in my child?

Good handwashing is important to stop the disease from being spread to other children. To help prevent the spread of the illness to others:

  • Wash your hands before and after caring for your child. Use soap and warm water and scrub for at least 20 seconds. Rinse well and air dry or use a clean towel.
  • If you aren't able to wash your hands, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and follow the instructions.
  • Make sure your child washes their hands often.
  • Make sure your childcare center encourages handwashing.

Also make sure to:

  • Clean contaminated surfaces with a disinfectant.
  • Stay away from infected people. An infected person can still transmit viruses for 1 to 2 weeks after they no longer have symptoms.

When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?

Call the healthcare provider if your child has:

  • Symptoms that don’t get better, or get worse
  • New symptoms

Key points about hand-foot-and-mouth disease in children

  • Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is an illness that causes a rash.
  • The rash is seen on the palms of the hands and on the soles of the feet. It may also occur in the diaper area, and on the legs and arms.
  • Small blisters also occur in the mouth.
  • This disease is very common in children. A child younger than age 10 is most at risk.
  • The symptoms go away in about a week. You can take steps to keep your child comfortable.
  • Handwashing is important to stop the spread of the disease.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.