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What is hand-foot-and-mouth disease?

Does your child seem sick, irritable, and have sores in their mouth, their hands and under their feet? If so, they may have a viral infection called "hand-foot-and mouth disease". The following article will tell you more about the subject.

Cause and modes of transmission

As previously mentioned, hand-foot-and-mouth disease is an infection caused by viruses, including the coxsakievirus. This virus can be transmitted by direct contact with infected secretions, but also by contact with infected stool. The virus can also be transmitted by indirect contact, that is, by contact with infected surfaces, such as doorknobs, phones, etc.

Incubation and contagion periods

The incubation period (the time required to develop the disease after contact with the virus) is 3 to 6 days. The disease is then very contagious, especially during the first week. After illness, it is still possible to pass the virus through the stool. This is because the virus persists in the stool for several weeks after illness (up to 12 weeks). We must therefore remain careful, even when the child is better.

Should my child by removed from daycare or school?

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease does not require removing your child from daycare or school. However, it’s best to keep the child at home during the feverish period (when the child has a fever). It’s also recommended to notify the daycare that the child has had the disease so that they can implement increased hygiene measures, especially for children who are still wearing diapers, as the virus remains in the stools for several weeks after the illness.

Who are most at risk?

The infection primarily affects young children, from 6 months to 4 years of age, but it can be found at any age (even adults can get it). It’s generally a mild disease, but some will be more severely affected.

What are the symptoms of hand-foot-and mouth?

Several symptoms can be present and the disease does not present the same way in everyone. Generally, the symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Painful ulcers in the mouth
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Small red spots accompanied by blisters in the hands, under the feet, on the buttocks or even elsewhere on the body

How to treat hand-foot-and-mouth disease

Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment or vaccine for hand-foot-and-mouth disease. It usually clears up on its own without leaving any damage. However, you can temporarily relieve the symptoms in order to make the affected person more comfortable. To do so, it is recommended to:

  • Stay hydrated (avoid excessively acidic liquids, which could increase the pain).
  • Consume cold foods like ice cream to help relieve the pain in the mouth and throat
  • Don’t burst ulcers or blisters.
  • If the child is old enough, you can ask them to gargle with salt water (1/2 teaspoon of salt diluted in 1 cup of water) to relieve their sore throat.
  • You can also administer medication to relieve fever and pain (acetaminophen or ibuprofen). Consult your pharmacist about the choice of product and the dose to be administered.

How to prevent hand-foot-and-mouth disease

Since the virus can be transmitted through direct and indirect contact, prevention requires hygiene. It is recommended to:

  • Wash your hands (especially after a bowel movement, after blowing your nose and before eating).
  • Clean objects that may have been contaminated by stool, vomit or secretions (e.g.: toys, pencils).

When should you seek medical advice? 

Occasionally, ulcers in the mouth can prevent a person from staying hydrated, so you should watch for signs of dehydration. You should consult a doctor if there is:

  • An absence of tears
  • A significant decrease in urine
  • Dry mouth
  • Refusal to eat or drink for more than 4 to 8 hours

In addition, you should consult a health care professional in the presence of:

  • Incessant vomiting
  • Severe sore throat
  • Stiffness or pain in the neck
  • Convulsions
  • Rapid breathing
  • Confusion or increased drowsiness

If you are pregnant and have been in contact with the disease, don’t worry, because your unborn child is not at risk. However, it’s best to see your doctor if you think you have contracted the disease.

Consult your pharmacist at any time if you have any questions or concerns about your health or that of your child. Your pharmacist is one of the most accessible healthcare professionals.

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