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Hand-foot-and-mouth disease

Published on August 10, 2020 at 8:00 / Updated on September 23, 2020 at 16:37

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is a contagious infection caused by a virus. It mostly affects children under age 10, especially those aged 6 months to 4 years, but adults can get it too.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is usually not serious. Some people won’t develop symptoms, whereas others may experience the following:

  • Fever
  • Small, painful ulcers in the mouth
  • Throat pain
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Lack of energy
  • Red spots with small blisters that appear on the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, the buttocks, and sometimes elsewhere on the body

Symptoms first appear 3–6 days after exposure to the virus, and the infection usually clears up on its own within a week.

The most common complication of the disease is dehydration, as some children may refuse to eat or drink because of the painful mouth ulcers.

Causes and triggers

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is caused by different viruses, including coxsackieviruses. It is spread through the throat and nose secretions and stools of infected people. Transmission can occur in several ways:

  • Through direct contact with the saliva or stool of an infected person
  • Through indirect contact with infected objects or food, or droplets coughed into the air by an infected person

The disease is particularly contagious during the first week of illness. However, the virus can be present in the stool for several weeks after symptoms disappear.


There is no treatment or vaccine for hand-foot-and-mouth disease. It usually heals on its own without any lasting effects. Handwashing is the best way to protect against the infection. It's also recommended to frequently wash the toys and surfaces in your home.

Children with the disease don't need to stay home from school or daycare. If their condition allows, they can continue their normal routine while practising good hand hygiene.

To relieve your child's symptoms, try the following measures:

  • Keep them hydrated
    • If the ulcers in their mouth are painful, avoid fruit juices and opt for neutral liquids such as water and milk.
  • Give them medication (e.g., Advil, Tylenol) to control their fever and pain
  • Make sure they don't pop their blisters

When should I see a health care professional?

You should consult your health care provider if your child has the following symptoms:

  • Signs of dehydration
    • Few or no tears when crying
    • Less frequent urination
    • Dry mouth
    • Not eating or drinking for more than 4–8 hours
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Rapid breathing
  • Severe throat pain
  • Severe headaches or neck stiffness
  • Seizures
  • Confusion or drowsiness
For more information:
Canadian Paediatric Society
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