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Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is a viral illness that mainly affects infants and young children. Symptoms of HFMD include fever and red spots or blisters in the mouth and on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. HFMD is not related to foot-and-mouth disease (also called hoof-and-mouth disease). Although the two diseases have similar names, they are caused by different viruses. HFMD only affects people, and foot-and-mouth disease only affects animals such as cattle, pigs, and sheep.

There is no specific treatment for HFMD. Almost all children recover on their own in 7 to 10 days. People with HFMD should rest and drink liquids to prevent dehydration. A health care provider may also recommend medications to control fever and pain. Some children may refuse to drink fluids because their mouth sores are painful. If reluctance to drink causes serious dehydration, treatment with intravenous fluids may be needed. 

Other complications from HFMD are rare, but medical attention should be sought if they occur. One complication is viral meningitis. Symptoms of viral meningitis include headache, stiff neck, and fever. People with viral meningitis sometimes need to be hospitalized. Very rarely, HFMD can also cause a severe disease called encephalitis (swelling of the brain).

HFMD is very contagious. To help prevent transmission of HFMD, everyone in the household should thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water after using the toilet, changing diapers, or having any contact with the ill person’s nose and throat discharge, stool, or blister fluid. Toys and surfaces should first be washed with soap and water, and then cleaned with a dilute solution of bleach (add ¼ cup bleach to one gallon of water). Children with HFMD should be kept home from daycare or school until their fever goes away and their mouth sores have healed. Adults with illness should stay home from work until symptoms resolve. 


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Last modified on: 12/1/2008 4:43 PM