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North Central Health District


Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

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What is Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease?

Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is a common viral illness that affects people of all ages, but infants and children younger than 5 years old are especially vulnerable. The illness is typically mild, and nearly all people recover in 7 to 10 days without medical treatment. HFMD is caused by several different viruses and it’s possible that people can get the disease again. In rare cases, further complications can occur.

Symptoms of HFMD

Most people who get HFMD will only have mild illness or no symptoms. Symptoms usually appear within 3-6 days of inital infection. Those with symptoms may experience:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Reduced appetite
  • Malaise or a general feeling of illness
  • Painful sores in the mouth (can develop 1-2 days after fever begins)
  • Skin rash, flat red spots and sometimes blisters on the palms of hands and soles of feet. May also appear on elbows, knees, buttocks or genital region.

Some people, especially young children, may get dehydrated if they are not able to swallow enough liquids because of painful mouth sores. If your child has painful mouth sores avoid acidic or spicy foods which may cause further pain. While HFMD is usually not a serious illness, in rare cases a person may experience complications including:

  • Viral meningitis
  • Polio-like paralysis
  • Encephalitis
  • Death

Who is at Risk?

HFMD is an illness that commonly affects infants and children under age 5, but it can sometimes occur in older children and adults. Infected adults are less likely to display symptoms, but they can still pass the disease to others.

How HFMD Spreads

Like most viruses, HFMD can be transmitted in a variety of ways:

  • A person with the infection sneezes, coughs, or blows their nose nearby
  • Close contact with an infected person, such as kissing, hugging, or sharing cups and eating utinsels
  • Touching your nose, eyes, or mouth after you have touched something contaminated by the virus, such as a toy, doorknob or surface
  • Handling an infected person’s feces (for example when changing a diaper)
  • Contact with fluid from the blisters of an infected person

People with HFMD are most contagious during the first week of their illness. However, they may sometimes remain contagious for weeks after symptoms go away. Some people, especially adults, may not develop any symptoms, but they can still spread the viruses to others.

Preventing HFMD

There is no vaccine or medication to protect against HFMD. However, you can reduce the risk of getting infected with the viruses by following a few simple steps:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially after changing diapers and using the toilet, and help young children do the same
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid close contact such as kissing, hugging, and sharing cups and eating utensils with people who have HFMD or similar symptoms
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick
  • Staying at home, away from work, school or any gatherings, if you or your child has HFMD symptoms

Treating HFMD

There is no specific treatment HFMD. Symptoms can be relieve in a few ways:

  • Use over-the-counter medicines to treat fever and pain. Remember, aspirin should not be used to treat a child’s symptoms
  • Use mouthwash or oral sprays that can numb mouth pain
  • Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration caused by loss of body fluids

If symptoms become severe and unmanageable, contact your healthcare provider.

Report all Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease clusters to NCHD at 478-751-6303 or via the State Electronic Notifiable Disease Surveillance System. For more reporting options, visit our Epidemiology and Infectious Disease page.

Learn about our related health services:

STD/HIV Testing
Women's Wellness
Pregnancy Testing