Hand, Foot, And Mouth Disease In Children: Causes, Symptoms, And Home Care

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It begins with a fever and then come the rashes in the mouth, hands and feet. You may be worried about the rashes spreading from one part to the other.

Although the hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is not a serious illness, it can cause suffering to your little one, especially while drinking and swallowing food.

We tell you about the hand, foot, and, mouth disease in children, the treatment and home remedies for it, and the prevention of the infection.

What Is Hand, Foot, And Mouth Disease?

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a contagious viral infection usually affecting children younger than five years of age. However, it can happen in adults as well.

The disease is characterized by sores in the mouth and a rash on the hands and feet, and occurs mostly during the summer and fall (1).

It is generally mild, self-limiting, and goes away in a few days.

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[ Read: Loss Of Appetite In Kids ]

What Causes HFMD In Children?

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is caused by the coxsackievirus, mostly coxsackievirus A16. Coxsackievirus belongs to a group of viruses called enteroviruses.

Other types of enteroviruses can also cause HFMD. But Coxsackievirus A16 and Enterovirus 71 have been mostly associated with HFMD outbreaks in children (2).

HFMD is highly contagious and spreads easily from person to person. Your child may contract hand, foot, and mouth disease by coming in touch with an infected person’s:

  • Saliva. It can directly transmit the virus to your child. Even sharing the same cup or plate, stationary, towel can make it contagious.
  • Respiratory droplets such as a sneeze or cough. If your kid comes in contact with an infected person’s cough or sneeze, or breathes in the same air, they can get infected.
  • Fluids from the blisters. Your child can contract the disease when they touch or come in skin contact with the fluid discharge from blisters on another child.
  • Feces. HFMD virus can also transmit through the fecal-oral route. So, if kids touch soiled diapers or come in contact with a soil or surface contaminated with feces of an infected person, they may catch the virus.
  • Skin contact with an infected person. A close physical contact, such as a handshake or a hug, can be a source of infection.
  • Contact with any object that is infected. Viruses can survive on inanimate objects; therefore, touching an object used by an infected person can transmit the virus.

If somebody in your family, close neighborhood or the child’s daycare is having the disease, then your child is likely to get it. It commonly spreads in day care centers, schools, playgroups, close contact sports, families living in congested quarters. Therefore, keep an eye on the symptoms.

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[ Read: Dehydration In Children ]

What Are The Symptoms Of Hand, Foot, And Mouth Disease?

Symptoms begin to show three to six days after contracting the infection. This period is known as the incubation period.

Your child may show some or all of these symptoms (3):

  • Mild fever of around 102oF
  • A sore throat and a scratchy feeling in the throat that is often painful due to lesions
  • Poor appetite
  • A headache
  • Painful red sores inside the mouth,affecting the roof of the mouth, gums, and inner walls
  • Red rashes on the palms, soles, and in the buttocks

The first symptoms are usually a fever followed in a day or two by a sore throat and poor appetite. The rashes appear one to two days after the fever starts. Painful blisters may appear inside the mouth (herpangina) within a day or two. This makes it difficult for the child to swallow.

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Who Is At A Risk Of Getting HFMD?

Young children below ten years, often below five years, are at the highest risk of contracting the disease.

Those attending a daycare or school can contract the infection as viruses spread quickly at places where there are several children.

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[ Read: Meningitis In Children ]

What Are The Complications Of HFMD?

Usually, HFMD runs its course and the affected child recovers on their own without any complications.

The greatest and most common complication is dehydration. The sores inside the mouth and throat make swallowing difficult, making the children reluctant to drink water. The mother needs to make sure the child has an adequate intake.

Any other serious complications are rare but children with low immunity are likely to have (4):

  1. Viral meningitis. This causes inflammation of the meninges or the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. Viral meningitis results in a headache, a fever, and a stiff neck.
  1. Encephalitis. The inflammation of the brain can be potentially fatal but is very rare.

As mentioned above, HFMD subsides on its own and doesn’t require a visit to the doctor. However, in some cases, you may have to.

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When To See A Doctor?

You need to visit a doctor if:

The symptoms in your child exacerbate after a few days

  • The mouth sores are too painful and prevent the child from drinking fluids
  • Severe dehydration as the child doesn’t pass urine for more than eight hours or their mouth becomes very dry
  • The symptoms are persisting even after ten days

The doctor will do a diagnosis to confirm if it is HFMD or any other infection.

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How Is HFMD Diagnosed?

The diagnosis is mainly clinical. The doctor will ask the age of the child and about the symptoms; they will check for the body and mouth sores.

If the disease has been there for long or the symptoms are confusing, the doctor may also conduct a throat swab culture and take a stool sample for laboratory testing to recognize the virus that caused it.

[ Read: Viral Infection In Children ]

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Treatment For Hand, Foot, And Mouth Disease

Treatment is not required as the infection goes away on its own in seven to ten days. However, your child’s doctor may prescribe a few medicines to reduce the fever or relieve the pain from the sores:

  • Topical ointments and oral anesthetics to soothe the rashes and blisters
  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve general discomfort, pain and headaches Medicated syrups for soothing sore throat pain.
  • Anti allergics to relieve itching.

If you are not keen to use painkillers and soothers, you may try some relief methods at home.

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Home Remedies For HFMD

Certain at-home remedies can improve the symptoms of hand, foot, and mouth disease:

  • Give your child popsicles to suck when the mouth blisters become very painful. They soothe the sores as well as hydrate the body.
  • Have your child gargle with lukewarm water and salt to alleviate the mouth and throat sores.
  • Offer cold and soft foods like ice cream and juices instead of solid foods.
  • Have your child drink water and other fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Do not give citrus fruits, soda or carbonated drinks.
  • Avoid spicy and salty foods as they may irritate the mouth sores.

If you do not want any of this trouble for the child or you, you may take measures to prevent the infection.

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How To Prevent Hand, Foot, And Mouth Disease?

You may take the below steps to prevent HFMD:

  1. The best means to prevent this illness is to practice good hygiene. Have your children wash hands with soap and water after using the washroom, and before and after eating.
  1. Teach young kids not to put their hands or any object in their mouth.
  1. Make sure your child does not share stationary or other objects with other kids in school or daycare.
  1. Separate towels and bed sheets if someone in the family develops the disease.
  1. Disinfect common areas in your home, especially shared areas and surfaces, regularly. Disinfect your kid’s toys and other commonly used objects.
  1. If your child is suffering from fever or rashes, have him or her stay at home until they get better. This will avoid spreading the infection to others.
  1. Teach them to cover their mouth before sneezing or coughing; this will contain the spread when they have the infection.
  1. If someone in your family is having HFMD, keep your child away from them.

Below we answer some of the most commonly asked questions on HFMD.

[ Read: Tuberculosis In Children ]

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. If my child had HFMD previously, can he or she get it again?

Your child can get hand, foot, and mouth disease for the second time but it is rare. Kids do develop immunity against the virus that has caused it; however other strains of the virus can cause it.

2. How long is an infected person contagious?

If you or a family member contracts HFMD, you are the most contagious in the first week. They can still be contagious (although to a lesser extent) for a few weeks even after the symptoms go away.

3. Is HFMD and foot and mouth disease the same?

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is not related to foot and mouth disease (also known as hoof and mouth disease), which is an infection caused by viruses in cattle and farm animals. A human being can neither contract it, nor can they transmit hand, foot, and mouth disease to animals.

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HFMD is not something you need to worry about but, yes, the child will find the sores very uncomfortable. Use some simple home remedies to soothe the rashes and reduce fever, and wait for the infection to subside.

What measures do you suggest for HFMD? Let us know in the comment section below.

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Dr Bisny T. Joseph

Dr. Bisny T. Joseph is a Georgian Board-certified physician. She has completed her professional graduate degree as a medical doctor from Tbilisi State Medical University, Georgia. She has 3+ years of experience in various sectors of medical affairs as a physician, medical reviewer, medical writer, health coach, and Q&A expert.Her interest in digital medical education and patient education made her pursue a career in medical writing. She believes that providing high-quality, evidence-based medical information for people could help them be more aware and responsible for their health and actively participate in decision-making in their healthcare. At MomJunction, Dr. Bisny writes health and wellness articles for mothers and children and she has been featured on BioSpectrum, Golden Eye Optometry, Little Stars Child Care Centre’s  Newsletter September and October, and The Indian Express.She likes to spend her spare time traveling and painting.

Dr. Mubina Agboatwalla

Dr. Mubina Agboatwalla is a well-known pediatrician, practicing paediatrics since the last 20 years in Karachi Pakistan. She is the head of the department of Pediatrics in Karachi Liaquat Hospital, as well as her private practice in three specialist clinics in Pediatrics. She is also a Public Health Specialist specializing in preventive health including nutrition, breastfeeding and infectious diseases especially... more