sad little girl Hand, foot and mouth disease is a common childhood illness that gets its name from the distinctive rash that appears in the mouth and on the hands and feet. Children with hand, foot and mouth disease develop painful, blister-like bumps in these areas. The condition, which is caused by a virus, most often affects infants and children younger than 5 years old, and is most often seen in the summer and fall.

Hand, foot and mouth disease is not the same as foot-and-mouth disease, which affects cattle, sheep and pigs. Humans can't get the same disease that animals get.

Disease spread

Hand, foot and mouth disease is spread through:

  • Close contact with someone who has the disease
  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Contact with feces, such as when changing diapers
  • Touching objects or surfaces that have the virus on them

Symptoms and diagnosis

Each child will experience symptoms differently. Here are the most common symptoms to look for:

  • Mild fever and cold-like symptoms, including a sore throat.
  • Painful sores in the mouth (tongue, cheeks and near the throat and tonsils). They begin as small red spots that blister and often become ulcers.
  • Blister-like bumps on the palms of the hands and on the bottoms of the feet. They may also appear on the knees, elbows, buttocks or genital area.

If you suspect your child has hand, foot and mouth disease, make an appointment with your pediatrician. The diagnosis is usually made based on observation of the rash. Your pediatrician will come up with a plan to reduce the severity of the symptoms while the disease runs its course — about seven to 10 days. Because hand, foot and mouth disease is caused by a virus, antibiotics are not effective.


Treatments for hand, foot and mouth disease include:

  • Increased fluid intake to prevent dehydration. Offer your child cool, iced drinks in small amounts throughout the day.
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®) to reduce fever.
  • Use of mouthwashes or sprays that numb mouth pain.

The best way to prevent hand, foot and mouth disease is by hand washing. Make sure you and your children wash your hands after playing outside, handling garbage and changing diapers.

Contributed by: Patrick S. Pasquariello, MD