Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease: 8 Things to Know

  • Baby's feet
    An Uncommon Name for a Common Condition
    Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) has an uncommon name, but the virus is very common in babies and children younger than 5 years old. Because of the name, the condition is often confused with hoof-and-mouth disease, which has more severe symptoms and only occurs in farm animals, not family pets. An understanding of HFMD can help you spot symptoms in your child earlier and make him or her more comfortable sooner as you wait for symptoms to subside.
  • Mother taking son's temperature
    1. Hand, foot and mouth disease can look a lot like the flu—with some key differences.
    HFMD can look a lot like the flu. Your child’s symptoms may include a fever, sore throat, loss of appetite and malaise (simply not feeling good). Malaise can be a symptom of almost any illness. The telltale signs your child may have HFMD are painful sores or blisters in the back of his or her mouth and a rash on hands, feet, knees, elbows, buttocks or genitals. If you notice these symptoms, see your pediatrician quickly for an accurate diagnosis. 
  • Mommy and Me
    2. Hand, foot and mouth disease is not just for kids.
    HFMD is most common in children, but adults can get it, too. You may have the same symptoms as kids or no symptoms at all. Whether or not you have symptoms, you may pass the virus to your child, who may pass it to you, who may pass it back. Outbreaks of the disease often occur in childcare centers, spreading person-to-person. Stay aware of any illnesses that are going around and let others know if you are contagious.
  • washing-hands-with-soap
    3. Hand, foot and mouth disease is contagious.
    The virus that causes HFMD is transmitted through saliva, mucus, fluid from blisters, feces, and contaminated surfaces, such as door handles and countertops. Help protect yourself and your family by maintaining good hygiene habits, including a thorough handwashing routine. Stay home from work if you are experiencing symptoms, and keep your child home from daycare and other activities if he or she is ill. If you’re not sure whether to stay or go, ask your doctor for advice.  
  • young girl splashing water
    4. You can catch hand, foot and mouth disease at swimming pools.
    There are plenty of swimming pool myths out there, but this isn’t one of them. While not common, some people get HFMD from swallowing water in swimming pools. Fecal matter can contaminate water, especially if the water isn’t treated with enough chlorine. Caution your kids to avoid swallowing any recreational water if they can. Get to know a facility’s policies around allowing children in water who are not fully potty-trained or who are not wearing swim diapers when needed.   
  • Mixed race family with child visit doctor.
    5. Complications of hand, foot and mouth disease are rare, but serious.
    Viral meningitis and encephalitis are two rare complications of HFMD. Symptoms of viral meningitis may include back pain or neck stiffness. Symptoms of encephalitis may include paralysis. Some people with HFMD have reported fingernail and toenail loss, although they have grown back, and a medical connection between HFMD and this symptom has not yet been proven. Tell your doctor about any severe symptoms immediately so you can get an accurate diagnosis and get appropriate treatment as soon as possible.
  • Cleaning supplies
    6. You can take steps at home to prevent the spread of hand, foot and mouth disease.
    If you or your child is diagnosed with HFMD, take steps to limit exposure to other family members. Sanitize shared spaces and wash toys with water and diluted bleach. Make sure you dispose of diapers and other soiled items in a container with a sealed lid. Avoid kissing and sharing utensils. It’s not easy to keep your distance when your child isn’t feeling well. But keep in mind the situation is temporary, and you want the virus to go away for good.
  • Baby visits the doctor
    7. There is no cure for hand, foot and mouth disease.
    Your doctor will diagnose HFMD based on signs and symptoms or the results of a saliva or stool sample. There is not yet a specific medical treatment for hand, foot and mouth disease. Symptoms usually go away on their own within 10 days. Research is ongoing, and the China Food and Drug Administration approved the first HFMD vaccine last year. Scientists are still evaluating the vaccine for its effectiveness against different strains of HFMD around the world.
  • Popsicles
    8. You can use at-home remedies to ease the symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease.
    There is no treatment for HFMD, but you can do a number of things to soothe the symptoms. Stock up on frozen favorites, such as ice pops, ice cream, and sherbet. These treats can ease soreness in the mouth and throat. Try to stick to soft foods that are easy to chew. Avoid salty, spicy, and acidic foods and drinks that may irritate blisters. Drink plenty of cold water and rinse with warm water after eating.  
Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease: 8 Things to Know

About The Author

Evelyn Creekmore has more than 15 years of experience writing online educational health content, including nearly 10 years full-time at WebMD, where she was the director of brand content. She holds an MPH in Applied Public Health Informatics from Emory University Rollins School of Public Health and an MA from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 10
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.