What to do when your child gets hand, foot and mouth disease?

Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFM) is a highly contagious viral infection that peaks in the summer and fall. Anyone can contract HFM, but children under five are most at risk. Here’s everything you need to know about this common condition, including the stages of hand, foot, and mouth disease and available treatment options.

What is hand, foot, and mouth disease?

It is a viral infection and a common cause of skin rash in young children. HFM symptoms include mouth sores and a red rash on the hands and feet, though most cases are mild and respond well to at-home treatment.

Causes of HFM

Viruses in the Enterovirus family cause hand, foot, and mouth disease, and one of those – coxsackievirus 16 – is the most common cause of HFM in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HFM disease can easily pass from person to person. Furthermore, HFM-causing viruses transmit through contact with an infected person’s saliva, nasal mucus, respiratory droplets, weeping skin blisters, or fecal matter. 

Symptoms of HFM

Everyone responds differently to hand, foot, and mouth diseases. A rash on the hands and feet is the most well-known symptom, but there are others, including:

  • Blistering mouth sores on the tongue, gums, and/or inside the cheeks.
  • Decreased appetite, fever, and sore throat.
  • Increased fussiness in babies and toddlers.
  • Small bumps or blisters on the buttocks, palms, and/or soles of the feet.

Who’s at risk? 

Hand, foot, and mouth disease in adults is certainly possible, but children under five are more likely to contract the infection. Adults tend to have stronger immune systems and better personal hygiene, which decreases the likelihood of contracting HFM.

Prime breeding grounds for hand, foot, and mouth disease include settings where children congregate together, such as daycares and preschools. Unfortunately, infants and toddlers have less developed immune systems, which increases their possibility of infection.

Is HFM highly contagious? 

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is highly contagious and easy to pass along in close contact. Coughing and sneezing children are less likely to cover their mouths and nose, which can transmit HFM-causing viruses into the air. Young children also tend to place objects in their mouths, and the sharing of toys and play areas can make child-to-child germ spread easier. 

Diagnosis: what does HFM look like? 

A physical examination will be needed for diagnosis. Healthcare providers look for skin rash, which presents as flat spots on the palms of hands, soles of feet, arms, legs, and/or buttocks. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, the rash is not itchy and – depending on skin tone – may be red, white, or gray, with blistering and weeping also common.

The different stages 

After initial exposure, it takes about three to six days for symptoms to appear. Following this incubation period, symptoms arise, such as fever, decreased appetite, decreased energy, sore throat, and feeling generally unwell. Several days later, the characteristic rash may appear and can last for a month. Young children also tend to become fussier than usual. 

How long does it last? 

Most symptoms of HFM resolve within 7-10 days. However, the Mayo Clinic warns that the virus can remain active in your body after symptoms disappear, which is why it is so contagious in children.


For a viral infection – antibiotics are ineffective as they only work on bacteria. Hand, foot, and mouth disease treatment options focus on symptom management, with over-the-counter medications recommended for reducing fever and sore throat pain.

HFM also increases the risk of dehydration, with mouth and throat sores making it painful to eat or drink. Treatment should include plenty of water, electrolyte replenishment drinks, and popsicles. If your child refuses to drink, has a high fever, or isn’t getting better after a week, seek medical attention immediately.

Test for HFM at Urgent Care 

If you need help assessing and treating HFM disease, come see the experts at one of our urgent care locations. Our experienced healthcare providers will conduct a quick physical exam to evaluate symptoms and recommend treatments to help navigate your recovery. Other medical conditions that every parent should be aware of and can have dangerous consequences for infants or children with underlying medical conditions are pediatric respiratory infections.

We’re open seven days a week and treat patients of all ages. Check-in online or walk in without an appointment – we’ll have you back to feeling better in no time!