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HealthInfo Canterbury

Hand, foot & mouth disease

Hand, foot and mouth disease is a common viral infection. It causes mouth ulcers, and spots on the hands and feet. It mostly affects children under 10 but it can affect older children and adults. The infection isn't 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 faeces (poo).

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.

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

How is hand foot and mouth disease treated?

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

The treatment is aimed at relieving 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, soft food that doesn't need lots of chewing may be easier to eat.

When and where should I seek help?

You should take your child to a doctor if they aren't drinking, if they're passing less urine than usual, if they have a high fever or if they seem very sleepy. You should see a doctor if you're pregnant and develop a rash.

How can I avoid spreading hand foot and mouth disease?

You're infectious 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 child home from childcare or school until their fever has gone and their mouth sores have healed. If your child only has a few blisters on their hands or feet (and none in their mouth) they can attend childcare or school if they’re feeling well and you can cover the blisters.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed June 2018. Last updated February 2020.


Page reference: 49673

Review key: HIHFM-49673