About hand, foot and mouth disease

Hand, foot and mouth disease is a mild infection that causes mouth ulcers and blisters on the hands and feet. It’s caused by different viruses, but most often by coxsackie virus.

Because hand, foot and mouth disease can be caused by different viruses, children can get hand, foot and mouth disease more than once.

Outbreaks of hand, foot and mouth disease typically happen in summer and autumn.

Your child can’t get hand, foot and mouth disease from animals. The hand, foot and mouth disease that children get isn’t the same as the foot and mouth disease that animals get.

How hand, foot and mouth disease spreads

Hand, foot and mouth disease is very contagious among groups of children, especially preschoolers. It’s spread through sneezing, coughing or touching the fluid inside blisters. The virus is also in the poo of infected children.

A child with hand, foot and mouth disease is very infectious until the blisters are gone. And even several weeks after symptoms go away, the virus can still spread if children come into with the poo of children who have had hand, foot and mouth disease.

Symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease

The virus infects children 4-6 days before symptoms appear.

Your child might have a mild fever for a day or two before the other symptoms appear.

Small mouth ulcers usually appear first on the cheeks, gums and sides of the tongue. Your child might also complain of a sore mouth or throat, or just go off her food and refuse fluids.

Your child might also have a headache and aching muscles, mild stomach pain or nausea.

Small blisters also appear on the hands and feet, usually on the palms and soles. Tiny red spots might appear on your child’s bottom, but these usually don’t form blisters except in babies.

The blisters and ulcers usually go away after 7-10 days.

Does your child need to see a doctor about hand, foot and mouth disease?

You should take your child to the GP if you think he might have hand, foot and mouth disease, or you’re not sure why he has a rash.

You should also take your child to the GP or to a hospital emergency department if she:

  • is refusing fluids as well as solids
  • is showing signs of dehydration – not as much wee as usual, paleness, weight loss, sunken eyes, cold hands and feet, and drowsiness
  • is very sleepy or generally unwell
  • has a headache, stiff neck or back pain
  • has trouble walking or is dizzy.

Treatment for hand, foot and mouth disease

There’s no cure for hand, foot and mouth disease. But most children get better quickly by themselves without any problems.

Paracetamol can help ease discomfort and pain.

It’s important for your child to drink fluids to avoid dehydration. This can be hard if your child’s mouth is sore. You could try an oral rehydration solution, which you can buy from any pharmacy.

If eating hurts your child, it’s best for him to stick to soft foods for several days, and to avoid tangy foods like tomatoes, lemons, grapefruit and oranges.

Don’t try to pop the blisters. This increases the risk of getting a skin infection and spreading the virus to other children.

Prevention of hand, foot and mouth disease

It’s difficult to stop your child from getting hand, foot and mouth disease. There’s no vaccine for it.

Careful handwashing, especially at child care and preschool, can help minimise the spread of the virus.

If your child is still in nappies, make sure to wash your hands after changing her nappies. Also make sure to properly wipe down the changing mat or table.

Your child shouldn’t go to child care, preschool or school until the fluid in the blisters has dried up.

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