Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is a mild but highly contagious viral infection common in pre-school children. Hand-foot- and-mouth disease is characterised by sores in the mouth and a rash on the hands and feet. It spreads from person to person, usually through unwashed hands or contaminated surfaces.
Signs and Symptoms
The usual period from initial infection to the onset of signs and symptoms (incubation period) is three to seven days.
- Fever (often the first sign of hand-foot-and-mouth disease)
- sore throat
- poor appetite
- feeling of being sick (malaise)
One or two days after the fever starts, painful sores can develop in the mouth (herpangina). They usually begin as small red spots, often in the back of the mouth, that blister and can become painful.
A skin rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet may also develop over one or two days as flat, red spots, sometimes with blisters. It may also appear on the knees, elbows, buttocks or genital area.
The illness spreads by person-to-person contact with nose and throat discharges, saliva, fluid from blisters, or the stool of someone with the infection. Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is most common in children in childcare settings, where diaper changing and potty training are constant, and little hands often are in and out of the mouth frequently.
The virus can also spread through a mist of fluid sprayed into the air when someone coughs or sneezes.
Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is most contagious during the first week of illness. However, the virus may spread for weeks after signs and symptoms have disappeared. Some people excreting the virus, especially most adults, may have no signs or symptoms of hand-foot-and-mouth disease.
There’s no specific treatment for hand-foot-and-mouth disease, and antibiotics aren’t effective because it’s a viral infection. The illness simply must run its course. To help lessen discomfort, doctors often recommend:
- Plenty of fluids
- Take over-the-counter medications to relieve pain and fever. (Caution: Aspirin should not be given to children.)
Fever and discomfort caused by hand-foot-and-mouth disease usually improve in three to four days. Mouth and throat blisters clear up in about seven days. The rash on the hands and feet commonly subsides within 10 days.
You can lower your risk of being infected by doing the following
- Careful hand washing. Be sure to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, especially after using the toilet and changing a diaper, and before preparing food and
- Disinfecting common areas. Get in the habit of cleaning surfaces first with soap and water, disinfecting all common areas, including shared items such as toys, as the virus can live on these objects for
- Good hygiene. Teach children to practice good Be a positive role model by showing them how to keep themselves clean. Explain to them why it’s best not to put their fingers, hands or any other objects in their mouths.
- Isolation. Because hand-foot-and-mouth disease is highly contagious, people with the illness should limit their exposure to others. It is most contagious during the first week of illness. However, the virus may spread for weeks after signs and symptoms have disappeared. Keep children with hand-foot-and-mouth disease out of school until fever is gone and mouth sores have healed.