Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD): Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention

Kid playing with toy in the garden

The development of red, painful blisters inside the mouth of a young child can be a frightening scenario and parents could be forgiven for panicking, especially if they've been supervising a twice daily, healthy oral hygiene routine. In the case of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD), however, oral hygiene has little to do with its development. Here's more about HFMD, including its symptoms, how it is contracted and how parents can prevent it.

What Is Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD)?

HFMD is a common viral infection caused by the enterovirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This infection is from the coxsackievirus A16, which belongs to the family of non-polio enteroviruses. Children have the highest risk of contagion, although older children, teens and adults occasionally contract the virus.

Symptoms of the condition include:

  • A fever lasting a day or two.
  • Small sores in and around the mouth.
  • Skin rash with blisters on the hands and feet, which may also appear on the buttocks region.
  • Poor appetite and difficulty swallowing food and water, which can cause dehydration if patients are unable to drink enough liquids due to the pain of the mouth sores.
  • General sense of being unwell.

Symptoms vary between patients, and adults often show no symptoms of the virus at all, although they are still able to carry and transmit the illness.

Contracting HFMD

The Coxsackie virus is usually transmitted from person to person through saliva and respiratory secretions, such as droplets from a sneeze or cough. Other common methods of contracting the disease are through fluid from blisters or the stool, according to the Mayo Clinic. As these secretions occur frequently in child care settings where diapers are changed and young children often put their hands in their mouths while playing, hand, foot and mouth disease is common in these environments.

In most instances, patients begin to improve within three to five days and should be fully recovered in seven to 19 days. Carriers can continue to infect others for weeks after the symptoms disappear and the virus appears to be gone.

Treatment of HFMD

Medical and dental practitioners usually recommend supportive treatments for cases of HFMD. Over-the-counter topical analgesics help relieve pain, both orally and in other areas. Pain killers are helpful to relieve patients' headaches and sore throats. Antibiotics are prescribed if the medical practitioner has a concern about infection developing. It's essential to keep patients hydrated, and IV fluids are sometimes necessary to achieve this.

Home care includes giving the patient chips of ice, ice cream or ice pops to suck, and cold beverages to drink. Continue twice daily brushing of your young child's teeth using a toothbrush that has extra soft bristles for gentle, yet effective cleaning.

Prevention of HFMD

Handwashing is key to reduce the risk of spreading hand, foot and mouth disease. This is especially important after using the toilet or changing a diaper, and before preparing or eating food. In child care environments, disinfect frequently used surfaces (including toys and other shared items) after regular washing. Keep any known infected children away from others to prevent spreading the virus.

Various medications are being tested for use with enterovirus infections, so a faster-acting treatment may be available in the future, notes Medscape. For now, though, your best bet for keeping your family safe from hand, foot and mouth disease is to practice good overall hygiene and to take immediate action if symptoms develop.


This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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