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Hand, foot and mouth disease

Hand, foot and mouth disease (or syndrome) is a viral infection characterized by blister-like sores on the hands, feet and in the mouth. It is most commonly caused by the Coxsackie A16 virus and enterovirus 71. The virus typically affects children between the age of 6 months to 4 years, and most cases occur in the summer and early fall.


Hand, foot and mouth disease is contagious and spreads easily. It is spread by contact with saliva and feces of an infected person via the hands or objects. Symptoms appear very quickly, usually within 3 to 6 days once the virus is transmitted. The child is contagious for the entire length of the disease. The virus can be found in feces for up to 8 to 12 weeks.


Blister-like sores are the most common symptom of hand, foot and mouth disease. The sores, which look like small spots filled with clear fluid, are called vesicles, and are not usually itchy. The vesicles are mainly found on the fingers, palms of the hands and soles of the feet. In the mouth, vesicles are usually located on the tongue, gums and inside of the cheeks. If the sores inside the mouth are painful, the child may refuse to drink or eat. It is important however, that the child drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Sores can also be found on the buttocks and, more rarely, elsewhere on the body.

The following symptoms are also possible:

  • fever
  • fatigue
  • sore throat
  • cough
  • runny nose
  • headache
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhea, vomiting

Generally speaking, symptoms disappear within 7 to 10 days. Hand, foot and mouth disease is usually not a serious illness. Speak to your doctor however, if you contract the infection and are pregnant or have a weakened immune system.


There is no vaccine to prevent hand, foot and mouth disease. Good personal hygiene practices, including frequent hand-washing (after using the washroom, changing diapers or blowing one's nose) is the best prevention. Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and toys is also recommended.

If the infected child is healthy and feeling well, there is no need to keep him home from school or daycare.


There are no treatments. Antibiotics are ineffective. A child who has fever or painful sores in his mouth may be given acetaminophen. It is important no to pop the vesicles, they will heal on their own.

If the child's overall condition is poor, if he has a bad headache or sore throat, if he is vomiting repeatedly and is becoming dehydrated, it is strongly recommended that the child see a doctor as soon as possible.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to speak to your pharmacist.

For more information:

Canadian Pediatric Society
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