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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Hand, foot & mouth disease

Māuiuitanga o te ringa, te waewae me te waha

Hand, foot and mouth disease is a common viral infection. It causes mouth ulcers, and spots on the hands and feet.

It mostly affects tamariki (children) under 10 but it can affect older children and adults. The infection is not related to foot and mouth disease, which affects cattle, sheep and pigs.

You can catch hand, foot and mouth disease from an infected person through coughing and sneezing. You can also catch it if you come into contact with their blisters, mucus (sputum or phlegm), saliva or poo (faeces).

Symptoms of hand, foot & mouth disease

The first symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease are a fever and a general feeling of being unwell. You often get a sore throat. Red spots on the tongue and mouth that develop into painful mouth ulcers can follow.

A day or two later, red spots can appear on your fingers, the backs or palms of your hands and the soles of your feet. Sometimes they also appear on your buttocks and groin. The spots may turn into small blisters. You can see pictures of the rash at DermNet.

Not everyone gets these symptoms. Some adults have no symptoms but can still spread the virus.

Treating hand, foot & mouth disease

Hand, foot and mouth disease can be unpleasant, but it will usually clear up by itself within seven to 10 days. There is no medicine to treat hand, foot and mouth disease.

To relieve the symptoms, you can take paracetamol or ibuprofen (ask your GP or pharmacist for advice) to help reduce your temperature. Drink plenty of fluids. If you have a sore mouth, you might prefer eating soft food that doesn't need lots of chewing.

Getting help with hand, foot & mouth disease

You should take your tamaiti (child) to a doctor if:

You should see a doctor if you're pregnant and develop a rash.

Avoiding the spread of hand, foot & mouth disease

You can pass the infection to others for seven to 10 days from the start of the illness. To reduce the risk of spreading the infection, it's important to have good hand hygiene. This includes washing your hands with soap and water. You should also avoid close contact with people, such as kissing, hugging and sharing eating utensils.

Keep your tamaiti child home from childcare or school until their fever has gone and their blisters have dried. If your tamaiti only has a few blisters on their hands or feet (and none in their mouth) they can attend childcare or school so long as they feel well and you can cover the blisters.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2022.


See also:

Eating and drinking when you're unwell

Page reference: 49673

Review key: HIHFM-49673