Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease

What is hand-foot-and-mouth disease?

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is an illness caused by a virus that results in a distinctive rash. It causes small, blister-like bumps in the mouth, and a rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. The rash may also appear in the diaper area, on the legs and arms, and around the mouth. The lesions in the mouth usually appear at the back of the throat.

What causes hand-foot-and-mouth disease?

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

  • Coxsackie viruses

  • Other enteroviruses

This disease is very common in children, particularly children younger than age 10. It is seen most often in the summer and fall. The virus is usually spread through fecal-oral contact or respiratory spread, although other modes of transmission have been reported. Good hand-washing is necessary to help prevent the spread of the disease.

What are the signs and symptoms of hand-foot-and-mouth disease?

The following are the most common symptoms of hand-foot-and-mouth disease. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Blister-like bumps in the mouth (usually near the throat and tonsils)

  • Small blisters on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and the diaper area, and rash on the arms and legs.

  • Fever

  • Lack of appetite and general malaise

How is hand-foot-and-mouth disease diagnosed?

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is usually diagnosed based on a history and physical exam of your child. The rash and mouth blisters of hand-foot-and-mouth disease are unique, and usually allow for a diagnosis simply on physical exam.

What is the treatment for hand-foot-and-mouth disease?

There is no specific treatment for hand-foot-and-mouth disease. Your child's healthcare provider will determine a course of action based on:

  • Your child's age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the disease

  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the disease

  • Your opinion or preference

The goal of treatment for hand-foot-and-mouth disease is to help decrease the severity of the symptoms. Since it is a viral infection, antibiotics are not effective. Expect symptoms of the disease to resolve within a week. The treatment of symptoms may include:

  • Increased fluid intake to prevent dehydration--provide cool, iced fluids in small amounts frequently

  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen for any fever

Proper hand-washing is essential in helping to prevent the disease from being spread to other children. Cleaning contaminated surfaces with sanitizers and disinfectants will help. Avoid close contact with infected people. An infected person can still transmit viruses for 1 to 2 weeks after he or she no longer has symptoms.

Reviewed by Zarana R. Swarup, MD, FAAP, Naline Lai, MD, FAAP, Julie Kardos, MD, FAAP

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