HFMD – Symptoms, Spread and Management

This is a contagious viral illness that commonly affects infants and children. It occurs most often in the spring to fall.

Symptoms of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Malaise
  • Ear pain
  • Sore throat
  • Painful oral lesions
  • Body rash, followed by sores with blisters on palms of hand and soles of feet. Rash is rarely itchy for children.
  • Mouth ulcer
  • Sores or blisters on nose and nostrils
  • Rash on the buttocks
  • Irritability, Loss of appetite.
  • Diarrhea
HFMD is usually not serious. The illness is typically mild, and nearly all patients recover in 7 to 10 days without medical treatment. 

HFMD is Contagious

HFMD is moderately contagious. The viruses that cause HFMD can found in an infected person’s nose and throat secretions (such as saliva, sputum, or nasal mucus), blister fluid, or feces (stool)
It spreads from an infected person to others through:
  • Close personal contact, such as kissing or hugging,
  • The air by coughing and sneezing,
  • Contact with feces, and 
  • Touching objects or surfaces that have the virus on them.
People with HFMD are most contagious during the first week of their illness. But, they can spread the virus even weeks after their symptoms have gone away. That is because the virus can stay in the feces for weeks. Also note that people who get HFMD and show no symptoms of the disease can still spread the viruses that cause it. 


There is no specific treatment for HFMD. Fever and pain can be managed with over-the-counter fever reducers/pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. In addition, people with HFMD should drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration (loss of body fluids).


There is no vaccine to protect against HFMD. However, the risk of getting the disease can be reduced by:
  • Washing your hands often, especially after changing diapers;
  • Thoroughly cleaning objects and surfaces (toys, doorknobs, etc.) that may be contaminated 
  • Avoiding close contact (like kissing and hugging) with people who are infected.

Complications of HFMD

Hand, foot and mouth disease is usually a mild disease that clears up on its own. Complications are uncommon.
They include:

Dehydration (Loss of body fluid):This is because the sores that develop in the throat and mouth make it difficult to drink and swallow. Therefore it is important to take plenty of fluids.
Infection of the sores :If the sores are scratched, they may become infected. If this happens, antibiotics can be taken to treat the infection.
Viral meningitisRarely, hand, foot and mouth disease can lead to viral meningitis. Viral meningitis is an infection of the meninges (membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord).

Viral meningitis is less severe than bacterial meningitis and most people will make a full recovery within two weeks. Symptoms include fever, drowsiness, headache, neck stiffness, vomiting and dislike of bright lights. There is no specific treatment.

Encephalitis: In very rare cases, encephalitis can occur. Encephalitis is an infection that causes the brain tissue to swell and become inflamed. It can cause brain damage and is potentially life threatening.

Early signs of encephalitis are flu-like symptoms, which can develop in a few hours or over a few days. Other symptoms include:
  • Vomiting,
  • Drowsiness or confusion,
  • Seizures (fits), and
  • Dislike of bright lights.

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