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Health Library : Dental and Oral Health


Hand-Foot-and Mouth Disease

What is hand-foot-and mouth disease?

Hand-foot-mouth disease is an illness caused by a virus that results in a distinctive rash - small, blister-like bumps occur in the mouth, and a rash appears on the palms of the hands and feet. The rash may also appear in the diaper area and on the legs and arms. The lesions in the mouth usually appear on the tongue, the sides of the cheeks, or near the throat.

What causes hand-foot-and mouth disease?

Hand-foot-mouth disease is caused by a virus. The most common viruses that cause hand-foot-and mouth disease include the following:

  • Coxsackie viruses
  • Other enteroviruses

This disease is very common in children, particularly children younger than age 10. It is seen most often in the summer and fall. The virus is usually spread through fecal-oral contact, although other modes of transmission have been reported. Good hand washing is necessary to help prevent the spread of the disease.

What are the signs and symptoms of hand-foot-and mouth disease?

The following are the most common symptoms of hand-foot-mouth disease. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Blister-like bumps in the mouth (on the tongue, the cheeks, and near the throat and tonsils)
  • A rash on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet; bumps may also be seen on the arms, legs, and diaper area
  • Mild fever
  • Lack of appetite and general malaise

How is hand-foot-and mouth disease diagnosed?

Hand-foot-and mouth disease is usually diagnosed based on a history and physical examination of your child. The rash and mouth blisters of hand-foot-and mouth disease are unique, and usually allow for a diagnosis simply on physical examination. A swab of the throat or stool could be sent to the laboratory for testing, but results often take two weeks or more.

What is the treatment for hand-foot-and mouth disease?

There is no specific treatment for hand-foot-and mouth disease. Your child's physician will determine a course of action based on:

  • Your child's age, overall health, and medical history
  • Extent of the disease
  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the disease
  • Your opinion or preference

The goal of treatment for hand-foot-and mouth disease is to help decrease the severity of the symptoms. Since it is a viral infection, antibiotics are ineffective. Expect symptoms of the disease to resolve within a week. The treatment of symptoms may include:

  • Increased fluid intake to prevent dehydration - provide cool, iced fluids in small amounts frequently
  • Acetaminophen for any fever
  • Anesthetic mouth rinses or sprays to help lessen the mouth pain

Proper hand washing is essential in helping to prevent the disease from being spread to other children. Cleaning contaminated surfaces with sanitizers and disinfectants will help. Avoid close contact with infected people. An infected person can still transmit viruses for 1-2 weeks after he or she no longer has symptoms.

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