Facts About Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease, or HFMD, is caused by a virus. Symptoms include ulcers, or sores, inside or around the mouth, and a rash or blisters on the hands, feet, legs, or buttocks. And while it's not pleasant, it also isn't serious.

Anyone can get the disease, but children under age 10 are most likely to catch it. You can take steps to ease the symptoms while it runs its course, though.


What Causes It?

The viruses that usually cause hand-foot-and-mouth are named coxsackievirus a16 and enterovirus 71. In fact, you might hear your child’s doctor refer to it as the coxsackie virus.

Your child can catch hand-foot-and-mouth through contact with someone who has it, or from something that's been in contact with the virus, like a toy, tabletop, or doorknob. It tends to spread easily in the summer and fall.


Early symptoms may include fever and a sore throat (in younger kids fever and decreased eating or drinking). Painful blisters similar to cold sores can show up on the inside of your child's mouth (usually in the back portion of the mouth) or tongue.

He might get a rash on the palms of his hands or the soles of his feet a day or two after the first symptoms appear. This rash may turn into blisters. Flat spots or sores may pop up on the knees, elbows, or buttocks. He could have all of these symptoms, or only one or two.

Mouth sores can make it hurt to swallow, so be sure your child gets enough water and calories.

How Is It Diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and look at any sores or rashes. This is usually enough to decide if it’s hand-foot-and-mouth disease with no extra tests. But he might take a throat swab or a stool or blood sample to be sure.


How Is It Treated?

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease should go away on its own after 7 to10 days. There is no treatment for the illness and no vaccine. You can ease your child’s symptoms with:

• Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) or numbing mouth sprays. Don’t use aspirin for pain -- it can cause serious illness in children.

• Cold treats like Popsicles, yogurt, or smoothies soothe a sore throat.

• Anti-itch lotion, like calamine, can help against rashes.

Stop the Spread

Your child is most contagious in the first 7 days. But the virus can stay in her body for days or weeks after symptoms go away and it could spread through her spit or poop. The best way to prevent that is to wash hands thoroughly. That applies to you, too, after you change a diaper or wipe a runny nose.

Your child should be fever- and symptom-free before she goes back to school or daycare. Check with your doctor if you aren’t sure whether she’s still contagious. Ask her school or daycare about their policy on when a child can return after illness.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is not the same as foot-and-mouth disease, which comes from a different virus and only affects animals.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on September 08, 2018



American Academy of Pediatrics: “Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease.”

CDC: “Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease.”

National Organization for Rare Diseases: “Hand-Foot-Mouth Syndrome.”

World Health Organization Western Pacific: “A Guide to Clinical Management and Public Health Response for Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD).”

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