hand foot and mouth disease

What Parents Need to Know About Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFM) is a viral illness that usually affects infants and children younger than 10 years old, specifically those 1 to 5. We spoke to Dr. Jonathan Auth, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician on what to expect with this common condition.

hand foot and mouth disease
Dr. Jonathan Auth, a CHOC Children’s pediatrician, explains hand, foot and mouth disease

Q: Is HFM contagious?

A: Yes, it can be spread through contact with feces, saliva, or mucus. The virus is common year round but tends to cluster in the summer and fall.

Q: What are the symptoms?

A: A fever is usually the first sign of the virus, followed by a reduced appetite and sore throat, which can cause a child to feel achy and irritable. After a few days, painful sores (red-yellowish blisters) develop in the back of the roof of the mouth. A skin rash with red spots may appear in the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, as well as on the knees, elbows and buttocks area.

Q: What should a child with HFM eat?

A: Make sure your child drinks plenty of fluids, such as water or milk, to stay hydrated. How much water should your child drink? At CHOC Children’s, we recommend that children drink the amount of 8 ounce cups of water equal to their age, with a maximum of 64 ounces for children over the age of 8. Most children do not have much of an appetite during this time. Cold or soft foods, such as popsicles, ice cream, yogurt or jello, are the most soothing given the sores on the throat.

Q: How is HFM treated?  

A: HFM usually clears up within a week. While there is no medical cure or vaccination for HFM, your child’s pediatrician can recommend ways to make your child more comfortable while the illness runs its course. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be given to ease painful mouth sores or discomfort from the fever. Download a parent’s guide to acetaminophen for children.

Children with blisters on their hands, feet or rest of the body should keep the areas clean and uncovered. Wash the skin with lukewarm soap and water, and gently pat dry.

Everyone in the family should wash their hands often, especially after using the toilet or changing a diaper, and before preparing food. Shared toys should be cleaned often, as viruses can live on objects for a few days.

Call your child’s pediatrician if your child is sluggish, can’t be comforted or seems to be getting worse.

Q: Are there any complications?

A: Complications are rare. Occasionally, some complications could arise, such as dehydration, due to a child not eating well, or not being able to swallow enough liquids because of painful mouth sores. Sometimes the rash or sores on the body can be infected if there are breaks in the skin.

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