Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

hand foot mouth disease

As a parent, there’s no higher priority than the health of your child. That’s why staying informed about common conditions affecting your little ones is crucial. Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is one such condition – a highly contagious viral infection that primarily targets young children (although it can impact individuals of any age). If you’re seeking a concise yet comprehensive overview of HFMD, you’ve found the right place.


Understanding Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease 

Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is a widespread and contagious illness mainly affecting children under five. Different viruses cause it, and outbreaks happen periodically. HFMD typically presents as a fever and a rash or sores on the hands, feet, and inside the mouth. Thankfully, it goes away on its own, and the symptoms are relatively manageable; most kids recover well from it.

HFMD is caused by several enteroviruses, with Coxsackievirus being the most common hand, foot, and mouth virus. These viruses typically spread through close personal contact, respiratory droplets, and contact with contaminated surfaces. Once contracted, the virus incubates for 3–6 days before signs of hand, foot, and mouth disease appear. 

In the United States, particularly in California, the disease tends to be most prevalent during the summer and early autumn months. This suggests a potential correlation with higher temperatures, a trend observed in Asian countries as well. The warmer and more humid winters experienced in California in recent years could pose an additional challenge if the virus persists for longer periods in such favorable climate conditions. Moreover, due to the impacts of climate change, there is some concern that the HFMD season may start earlier in spring and linger later into the fall.  


Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease Symptoms


1. Fever

HFMD often starts with a fever, which may be as high as 101–103°F (38–39.4°C). 


Read more: Child’s Fever: Symptoms, Treatment, and When to See a Doctor


2. Sore Throat 

An early sign of hand, foot, and mouth disease is sore throat, which causes considerable discomfort.


3. Mouth Sores

Painful, small red spots or ulcers may develop inside the mouth, on the tongue, and around the gums. These may make eating and drinking painful. Make sure to keep the affected areas clean and practice good hand hygiene to prevent the virus from spreading.


4. Rash

A distinctive rash with red spots or blisters appears on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and sometimes on the buttocks. This rash is a hallmark of HFMD, caused as a result of the viral infection. The hand, foot, and mouth blisters are filled with clear fluid and often painful; they typically resolve independently as the illness progresses. 


5. Irritability

Young children with HFMD may become irritable due to discomfort from mouth sores and the overall illness.


6. Lack of Appetite 

Painful mouth sores could lead to a decreased appetite and difficulty swallowing. 


7. Fatigue

HFMD may cause tiredness and general malaise. 


Stages of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

HFMD typically follows a specific progression

  1. Incubation Period: The virus incubates for 3–6 days after exposure. 
  2. Initial Symptoms: Fever and sore throat mark the onset of the illness. 
  3. Mouth Sores: Small red spots and ulcers develop inside the mouth. 
  4. Rash: The characteristic rash appears on the hands, feet, and sometimes the buttocks. 
  5. Recovery: Symptoms usually improve within a week. 

Causes and Risk Factors 

Enteroviruses, especially Coxsackievirus, primarily cause HFMD. These viruses spread quickly and may be transmitted through:

  • Close Contact

          Direct contact with an infected person’s saliva, mucus, or feces could spread infection.


  • Respiratory Droplets

          Coughing and sneezing release viral particles into the air, leading to transmission. 


  • Contaminated Surfaces

           Touching surfaces contaminated with the virus and touching the face could also lead to infection.


Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease Treatment Options

Currently, there is no specific antiviral medication for HFMD. Healthcare providers focus on alleviating symptoms and ensuring comfort through hand, foot, and mouth treatment:


A. Pain Relief

Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen may help reduce fever and alleviate discomfort. 


B. Mouth Care

Gargling with warm salt water or topical oral anesthetic helps ease mouth sore pain. 


C. Hydration

Staying hydrated is crucial, especially if swallowing is difficult due to mouth sores. Encourage fluids like water, clear soups, and ice pops.


D. Rest

Rest is essential for recovery and helps the immune system combat the virus. 


E. Isolation

Infected individuals with mild or severe hand, foot, and mouth symptoms should avoid close contact with others to prevent transmission.


F. Good Hygiene

Frequent handwashing and disinfecting of commonly touched surfaces helps prevent the spread of the virus. 

Read More: Why Are Clean Hands Important for Children


Preventing Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease 

Preventing HFMD is challenging due to its contagious nature, but the following measures help reduce the risk: 


  • Wash Hands Regularly

           Regularly wash your hands with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and before eating. 


  • Avoid Close Contact 

          Limit close contact with infected individuals and encourage good respiratory hygiene. 


  • Disinfect Surfaces

           Clean and regularly disinfect surfaces and toys that your child frequently touches.


  • Stay Home When Sick

          Individuals with symptoms of HFMD should stay home to avoid spreading the virus. 


  • Get Vaccinated

          While there’s no specific vaccine for HFMD, staying up-to-date on routine vaccinations may help overall immune system health. 


Safeguarding Health: Empowering Communities Against Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease 

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a viral illness that primarily affects children but can impact people of all ages. It is characterized by fever, sore throat, mouth sores, and a distinctive rash on the hands, feet, and buttocks. While no specific antiviral HFMD treatment exists, symptom management and good hygiene practices help reduce discomfort and prevent transmission. 

It’s essential to understand HFMD’s symptoms, what causes HFMD, and HFMD prevention strategies to protect the health of children and communities. Practice good hygiene, maintain clean environments, and stay informed about the disease to work towards minimizing its impact and ensuring a healthier future for all. 

If you’re seeking top-notch care for HFMD, look no further. Partner with Children’s Medical Center of Fresno for a brighter, healthier future. We offer after-hours, telemedicine, and weekend options for your convenience. 

Elevate your child’s health with expert hand, foot, and mouth disease guidance. Schedule a pediatric appointment today for their well-being; contact us at (559) 455-1500 or click “Book an Appointment” for specialized care. 

Trust us for the best in pediatric healthcare solutions. Explore our services at https://cmcfresno.com/

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