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Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease in Children

What is hand-foot-and-mouth disease in children?

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is an illness caused by a virus. It causes a rash that appears on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Small blisters also occur in the mouth, usually at the back of the throat. The rash may also appear in the diaper area, and on the legs and arms.

What causes hand-foot-and-mouth disease in a child?

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is caused by a virus. The most common viruses that cause it include:

  • Coxsackievirus A16
  • Enterovirus A71

The virus is usually spread through fecal-oral transmission. This is often because of not washing hands properly, particularly after changing diapers or using the bathroom. Handwashing is key to help prevent the spread of the disease.

Which children are at risk for hand-foot-and-mouth disease?

This disease is very common in children. A child under the age of 10 is most at risk.

What are the symptoms of hand-foot-and-mouth disease in a child?

Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. They can include:

  • Blisters in the mouth, usually near the throat and tonsils
  • Small blisters on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet, or both
  • Small blisters in the diaper area
  • Rash on the arms and legs
  • Fever
  • Lack of appetite
  • Generally not feeling well

The symptoms of hand-foot-and-mouth disease are usually unique. But they can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is hand-foot-and-mouth disease diagnosed in a child?

The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she will give your child a physical exam. The physical exam will include looking at the rash. The rash is unique to hand-foot-and-mouth disease. The rash may be enough to diagnose your child. In some cases, your child may also have a throat culture or stool sample sent to a lab for testing.

How is hand-foot-and-mouth disease treated in a child?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. Antibiotics are not used to treat this illness.

The goal of treatment is to help reduce symptoms. Symptoms may last up to a week. Treatment may include:

  • Making sure your child drinks plenty of cold fluids to help soothe mouth pain
  • Giving acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever and discomfort
  • Using a mouth rinse or spray that contains a pain reliever to help lessen the mouth pain. Use this only if your child's healthcare provider says it’s OK to do so. Don't use regular mouthwash, because it may hurt.

Talk with your healthcare provider about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medicines. Don't give ibuprofen to a child younger than 6 months old, unless your healthcare provider tells you to. Don't give aspirin to children. Aspirin can cause a serious health condition called Reye syndrome.

How can I help prevent hand-foot-and-mouth disease in my child?

Good handwashing is important to stop the disease from being spread to other children. To help prevent the spread of the illness to others:

  • Wash your hands before and after caring for your child. Use soap and warm water and scrub for at least 20 seconds. Rinse well and air dry or use a clean towel.
  • Make sure your child washes his or her hands often.
  • Make sure your childcare center encourages handwashing.

Also make sure to:

  • Clean contaminated surfaces with a disinfectant.
  • Stay away from infected people. An infected person can still transmit viruses for 1 to 2 weeks after he or she no longer has symptoms.

When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?

Call the healthcare provider if your child has:

  • Symptoms that don’t get better, or get worse
  • New symptoms

Key points about hand-foot-and-mouth disease in children

  • Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is an illness that causes a rash.
  • The rash appears on the palms of the hands and on the soles of the feet. Small blisters also occur in the mouth, usually at the back of the throat. The rash may also appear in the diaper area, and on the legs and arms.
  • This disease is very common in children. A child under the age of 10 is most at risk.
  • The symptoms go away in about a week. You can take steps to keep your child comfortable.
  • Handwashing is important to stop the spread of the disease.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.
Online Medical Reviewer: Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Lentnek, Arnold, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Sather, Rita, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2016
© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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