Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease
Hand, foot and mouth disease is a mild and common illness caused by a virus; it is very contagious and is common in children under 10 years of age. However, adolescents and adults can also be affected.
Most adults are immune to the virus as they have been exposed to it during their childhood. Adults who develop hand, foot and mouth usually experience milder symptoms than children.
It is possible to catch hand, foot and mouth disease more than once, but children are unlikely to catch it again during the same outbreak.
Generally, hand, foot and mouth disease is a mild and short-lasting illness. The body’s immune system clears the virus and symptoms go away after about 7 to 10 days; treatment is usually not needed.
Symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease usually appear 3 to 5 days after infection with the virus. They last for 7 to 10 days before disappearing on their own.
Some people with hand, foot and mouth disease do not develop any symptoms.
Early symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease include:
- fever and feeling unwell,
- loss of appetite,
- sore throat,
- small red spots in the mouth, throat and skin.
Later symptoms include:
• Mouth lesions – after one or two days, red spots in the mouth will develop into painful ulcers, particularly around the tongue, gums and inside of the cheeks. It may be difficult to eat, drink and swallow.
• Skin rash – any red spots on the skin will turn into a rash over the following one to two days. The spots are flat or raised, sometimes with blisters, and smaller than chickenpox sores. The rash develops on the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet and between the fingers and toes. In some cases, spots also develop on the buttocks and genitals.
There is no specific treatment for hand, foot and mouth disease. The condition usually clears up by itself after 7 to 10 days. As it is caused by a viral infection, it cannot be treated with antibiotics.
You can ease the symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease by:
- drinking plenty of fluids (water or weak squash are ideal), and
- taking medication to relieve symptoms such as paracetamol for fever or antihistamines for itch,
- anaesthetic mouth washes or sprays can help ease the discomfort of mouth ulcers.
As hand, foot and mouth is easily spread, it is important to practise good hygiene. Always wash your hands after going to the toilet, after changing nappies and before handling food. Avoid sharing utensils with people who have hand, foot and mouth and if your child has the illness, encourage them to wash their hands regularly as well.