Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease: What Is It?

Most have heard of hand, foot, and mouth disease but may have not ever had it. It is a common illness caused by a virus that can affect infants and kids up to age five. I can happen to older kids and even adults, however. It usually starts by:

  • Elevation of fever
  • A sore throat
  • Not feeling good
  • Not wanting to eat

One to two days after the fever has begun, there will be painful sores that show up in the mouth. They will start as little red spots, at the back part of the mouth, then they will blister and start hurting.

Next, a skin rash on the soles of one’s feet and palms of the hands might start developing over a one to two-day period as flat, red dots, sometimes appearing with blisters. You might see this rash on the elbows, knees, genital area, and buttocks.

Young children are more prone to get dehydrated if they can’t swallow enough liquids due to the pain caused by the mouth sores. Seek medical care if this happens.
Everyone will not get all the symptoms. Adults can get infected and not have any symptoms but are still able to give the virus to others.

Most who get hand, foot, and mouth disease will only have a mild bout with the illness, but there is a small number of cases that can have a more severe form.

Causes

It is caused by an Enterovirus that also includes the coxsackieviruses, enteroviruses, echoviruses, and polioviruses.

How It Can Be Spread

Viruses that cause hand, foot, and mouth can be found in:

  • Infected person’s saliva, sputum, nasal mucus
  • Infected person’s blister fluid
  • Infected person’s feces (poop)

To be exposed to the virus:

  • Hugging an infected person or another close personal contact
  • Breathing the air around where an infected person coughs or sneezes
  • Changing diapers, then touching your eyes, mouth, or nose before washing hands could bring you in contact with feces.
  • Contacting objects and surfaces that are contaminated, for instance, touch a doorknob that has viruses on it, then touch your nose, mouth, or eyes before cleaning your hands.

You can also get infected with the virus if you swallow water in swimming pools, but this is uncommon. It is more likely to happen if the pool water has not been treated the correct way with chlorine and gets contaminated by feces from a person with hand, foot, and mouth disease.

If you have the disease, you are most contagious the first week of the illness, but you can be contagious for days up to weeks after symptoms have disappeared. If you have the disease and do not have symptoms, you can still spread the virus. It is even more reason to maintain the best of hygiene, frequent handwashing, so it is less likely to spread infections.

Stay home during the time you are sick with hand, foot, and mouth disease. If you are not sure when you can return to work, talk to your doctor. Same advice for kids going back to daycare.
You cannot contract hand, foot, and mouth disease from your pets or any other animal.

Healthcare providers can usually diagnose this disease by seeing the sores in the mouth and the rash on the hands and feet. They also take into consideration what other symptoms the patient is exhibiting, how old is the patient, exactly how the rash and sores in the mouth look.

It may be necessary for the doctor or nurse to collect samples from either the patient’s poop or throat and send to the laboratory so that they can be tested for the virus.

Prevention

There is no vaccine in the U.S. for hand, foot, and mouth disease.

To lower your chances of contracting this very contagious disease follow these measures:

  • Wash hands with soap and water thoroughly and often
  • Wash your hands using soap and water carefully after changing diapers and using the bathroom
  • Disinfect and clean often the surfaces and soiled items that are touched, inclusive of toys
  • Avoid any close contact like hugging, sharing cups or eating utensils with others who might have hand, foot, and mouth disease, and no kissing.

Treatment

While there is no treatment for hand, foot, and mouth disease there are a few things you can do to relieve your symptoms:

  • Use over-the-counter meds for reducing fever and pain (NO-aspirin for children.)
  • Use sprays and mouthwashes that will numb the mouth pain.