Article at a Glance

  • Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is a virus that causes blisters in the mouth and a rash on the hands, feet, and bottom.
  • In milder cases, it can be hard to tell if your child has HFMD.
  • Most cases can be treated at home with pain medication and plenty of fluids.

Although most people have had hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) by the time they are adults, many parents have never heard of it. This is because most cases are relatively mild and the symptoms can be hard to spot.

What Is It?

  • Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is caused by a highly contagious virus that typically lasts 7 to 10 days.
  • The virus can cause painful blisters or sores to form in the mouth and a rash on the hands, feet, and bottom.
  • In milder cases, children may only have blisters in the back of their mouth. This can make it hard to tell if your child has HFMD. Other things to look for include a fever, irritability, malaise, drooling, sore throat, and an unwillingness to eat or drink.
  • Symptoms usually start 3 to 7 days after being infected. You will usually notice a fever first, followed by a sore throat and a decrease in appetite. Blisters start to appear one or two days after the fever.
  • Sometimes a few weeks later the skin on the fingers and toes might peel off. It is harmless. In an even smaller percentage of cases, the fingernails or toenails might also fall off. It is nothing to worry about and they will grow back normally.
  • HFMD is not hoof and mouth disease, a completely different disease that affects livestock.

Who Gets It?

  • Children four and under are most likely to pick up the virus. Adults aren’t as likely to get it or to show symptoms because they have already developed antibodies against it.
  • Children most often get HFMD at daycare, preschool, or other places where lots of young children congregate.
  • HFMD is most common during the warm summer months.

How Is It Spread?

  • The virus resides in a person’s digestive tract and can be transmitted through salvia, nasal mucus, feces, and blister fluid.
  • The best way to prevent spreading it is by washing your hands frequently, especially after changing diapers and before handling food.
  • The virus is often spread through sharing toys, coughing or sneezing, touching infected surfaces, and sharing utensils. Shared toys and frequently touched surfaces should be disinfected often.
  • Even after your child has recovered, the virus can still be spread through the stool for several weeks.

How Do I Treat It?

  • Like the common cold there is no cure for HFMD, but you can treat the symptoms.
  • Ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help with the fever and the pain from the mouth blisters. [See our Dosage Charts]
  • Make sure your child gets lots of fluids. If your child doesn’t want to drink anything, try popsicles made out of plain water or apple juice. Avoid things like orange juice or anything else acidic, salty or spicy because it can make the blisters hurt worse.
  • In some cases your pediatrician might be able to prescribe a mouthwash solution that can be used to ease the pain from the blisters.
  • Keep blisters on the hands or feet uncovered and clean. Do not try to pop them. If one does pop, apply some antibiotic cream and cover it with a bandage.
  • Keep your child home until the fever is gone and the sores have healed.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

  • Mild cases can be easily treated at home, but severe cases can make your child absolutely miserable. Call your doctor if your child refuses to drink anything or is showing signs of dehydration.
  • Call your doctor right away if your child is complaining of a headache, back pain, or a stiff neck.
  • If you aren’t sure it is HFMD or if the rash is severe, call your doctor.

More Information:
Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (
Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (CDC)

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