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Home / Health Insurance / Articles / Diseases / Understanding Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD): Symptoms, causes and treatments

Understanding Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD): Symptoms, causes and treatments

Team AckoJan 17, 2024

The Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD) is a mild but contagious infection that affects infants and children. This virus spreads easily from one person to another. There is no particular cure or treatment for HFMD. However, frequent hand washing and avoiding close contact with an infected individual can help lower the odds of getting infected. Read on to understand more about this disease and help your toddler or teen cope with it if they are exposed to the virus.




Symptoms of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

The early signs of HFMD, as mentioned below, appear within 3 to 7 days after exposure. 

After 1 or 2 days, the following symptoms are seen in the children.

  • Painful ulcers on tongue, throat, and tonsils

  • Rash, which is not itchy but has tiny and painful blisters on palms and soles

  • Difficulty in eating and drinking due to mouth sores

  • Fussiness in infants

  • Flat spots on elbows, knees, genitals, and buttocks

The viruses which lead to this disease are usually found in the body of the infected individuals, including mucus from the nose, saliva, stool, and fluid from the blisters.

Further, this disease is highly communicable and is transmitted in the following ways.

  • Close contact with the infected individual, like sharing utensils

  • Droplets from cough and sneeze

  • Contact with faeces (while changing a diaper)

  • Fluid from blisters

  • By touching surfaces containing traces of the virus

Causes of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Diseases in children 

Most people get this disease by directly coming in contact with an infected individual. The other common causes of HFMD are the following viruses.

  • Coxsackievirus A16: It is the most common strain that leads to this disease. It is also known as coxsackievirus.

  • Coxsackievirus A6: This virus causes severe symptoms.

  • Enteroviruses: This strain is uncommon but can cause serious illnesses such as swelling in the brain.

Who is at risk?       

This disease commonly affects kids under ten years of age, especially those under five. But anyone can get it because the infection spreads from person to person.

In general, older children build up antibodies after exposure to the virus. That is why they rarely get affected by this condition. However, kids with a weakened immune system easily become infected. Further, kids who attend childcare centres and schools are vulnerable, as the virus transmits quickly in such settings.

Stages of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

There are three stages of this disease which are as follows.

Stage 1

Kids usually remain in this stage for 1 to 2 days. Initially, the affected kid will experience cold-like signs such as high fever, runny nose, loss of appetite, and sore throat. In this stage, individuals are highly contagious. 

Stage 2 

On the third day, kids develop tiny ulcers on the roof of the mouth, tongue, and gums. These ulcers will make it hard for kids to drink or eat. 

Stage 3

On the third day, kids develop rashes on their hands and feet. These rashes may spread all over the body and are generally not itchy. 

It is vital to note that not everyone faces the same type of skin rashes. Some may get tiny rashes that are not painful. Others may experience large, pus-filled, painful skin rash. Skin rash with blisters may contain the virus. So, ensure not to touch them and wash your hands immediately if you touch them mistakenly. 

Complications of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

Serious complications from this disease are rare. Some may experience the following problems.

  • Dehydration: As individuals have ulcers in the mouth, it will become difficult for them to eat or drink. Well, it is crucial to consume fluids during the illness. 

  • Nail loss: Not everyone faces this problem, but some may lose toenails or fingernails. There is nothing to worry about because the nail will grow back soon.

Sometimes viruses cause severe problems, which are as follows: 

  • Viral meningitis: It is an infection in membranes that causes swelling of the brain and spinal cord. 

  • Encephalitis: It is a rare but life-threatening condition that leads to inflammation in the brain.

If these conditions are not treated on time, then the individual may face more serious illness and will be at higher risk of losing their life. According to a report published on PubMed, it was noted that seizures, coma, pneumorrhagia, dyspnoea, and lethargy were risk factors for death in Hands, Foot, and Mouth Disease. 

How is Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease diagnosed?

The diagnosis is generally made clinically. Also, signs such as rashes, blisters, and mouth sores and the patient’s age are enough to diagnose this problem. However, the doctor may order a blood test and can even take a stool sample or throat swab and send them for lab testing.  

Treatment options for Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

Presently, there is no vaccine or medication for this type of disease. No antibiotics or medications for bacterial infection can treat this condition. This is because HFMD is caused by a virus.

The signs of this condition are mild and go away in 7 to 10 days. Individuals get better in a maximum of two weeks with minimal at-home care. Yoghurt, ice creams, and smoothies can help soothe the throat. Sodas and juices should be avoided at all costs. These things contain acids that may irritate mouth ulcers.

It is imperative to visit a doctor as they may recommend following to make the individual feel better.

  • Anti-itch lotion for rashes

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen for fever and pain

  • Mouth sprays for numbing the sores

  • The doctor can also recommend mouthwash to those who are old enough to gargle 

Good hygiene is crucial

This disease is highly contagious, and in some cases, it can lead to severe problems. So, individuals, along with their family members, must practise good hygiene. This way, they would be able to control and get rid of this disease soon. 

Frequently asked questions

Listed below are some of the common queries regarding Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease.


When should I visit the doctor?

You should go to the doctor if you or your kids experience the following.

  • Not able to eat or drink due to sore throat

  • Severe blisters

  • Mouth sores

  • High fever that lasts more than three days

  • Weak immune system

  • If signs do not improve after ten days

How long will the individual be contagious with Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?

The individual will be contagious for the first week of the infection. The virus easily spreads through the droplets from coughing and sneezing. 

Can you get HFMD twice?

Yes, it is possible to contract this disease more than once. It commonly affects infants and toddlers but can also be seen in adults. 

Can parents catch Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?

There is a possibility that parents can catch this condition. They can wash their hands frequently, especially while taking care of the children and changing their diapers.

What is the most contagious part of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?

This disease is highly contagious and can spread through faeces, fluid from blisters, and respiratory droplets. 

Can kids take a bath when they are suffering from HFMD?

 Parents should bathe their children with utmost care. The child should be handled gently so as to avoid breaking the painful and pus-filled blisters.


 Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.


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