Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is a common viral illness that starts in the throat and affects mainly children younger than age 10. The disease isn’t serious, needs no specific treatment, and usually goes away within 2 weeks.
The cause is coxsackievirus A16. This virus can be found in bowel movements (stool) and body fluids of the nose and throat. It spreads from person to person by touching the body fluids of someone who is infected.
Symptoms usually start within a week after an exposure and include feeling sick, low-grade fever, sore throat, loss of appetite, headache, and a rash on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and buttocks. Sores may begin in the mouth—on the tongue, gums, and insides of the cheeks—several days after fever starts. They start as small red spots that blister.
The health care provider makes a diagnosis by checking symptoms and looking at the rash and sores. The health care provider may take samples of stool or of fluid from the throat for testing.
No specific treatment is needed. Medicine such as acetaminophen may reduce fever and help control pain. Rinsing the mouth or gargling with warm salt water, taking antacids, and using topical anesthetic gels can relieve pain from mouth sores.
Children should rest until the fever is gone. Encourage drinking fluids and offer ice cream, custard, and Jell-O, because solid foods may not be tolerated.
To avoid spreading the disease, use separate eating utensils and boil them, or use disposable utensils. Boil pacifiers and bottle nipples separately from bottles. Keep the child away from other children.
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