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Diseases & Topics

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

A common viral illness, hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) usually occurs in infants and children younger than 5 years old, but can also affect older children and adults. Symptoms of this communicable disease include fever, blister-like sores in the mouth, and a skin rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. The rash may also appear on the knees, elbows, buttocks or genital area. Some people may have only one or two symptoms or may have no symptoms at all.

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is not the same as foot-and-mouth disease (also called hoof-and-mouth disease), which is a disease of cattle, sheep, and swine (pigs). The two diseases are not related and are caused by different viruses. Humans do not get the animal disease, and animals do not get the human disease.

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is spread from person to person by direct contact with the infectious viruses that cause this disease, usually a coxsackievirus or enterovirus. These viruses are found in the nose and throat secretions (such as saliva, sputum, or nasal mucus), fluid in blisters, and stool of infected persons. The viruses may also be spread when an infected person touches objects and surfaces that are then touched by others. Hand, foot, and mouth disease is not transmitted to or from pets or other animals.

There is no vaccine to protect against the viruses that cause hand, foot, and mouth disease. However, a person can lower their risk of being infected or spreading infection by:

  • Washing hands often with soap and water, especially after changing diapers and using the toilet, and before preparing or eating food or beverages.
  • Disinfecting dirty surfaces and soiled items, including toys. First wash the items with soap and water; then disinfect them with a fresh solution of chlorine bleach (made by mixing 1 tablespoon of bleach and 4 cups of water).
  • Avoiding close contact such as kissing, hugging, or sharing eating utensils or cups with people who have hand, foot, and mouth disease.
  • People with HFMD should stay at home until their fever resolves. Children should stay home from school or child care if they are ill to prevent spreading the disease to others.

It is important for people with HFMD to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dangerous dehydration. Some people with HMFD, especially young children, may not be able to swallow enough liquids because of painful mouth sores. They may need to be given fluids intravenously. See your doctor if symptoms are severe.

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