Everything You Need to Know About Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is a viral infection that usually affects infants and children under 5 years of age; however, it may also occur in adults. Initial symptoms of HFMD include fever, mouth sores, reduced appetite and sore throat. A skin rash consisting of red spots and sometimes blisters may also develop after a few days and are most common on the palms of one’s hands and the soles of the feet. Complications surrounding HFMD are extremely rare but may include viral meningitis, inflammation of the brain, polio-like paralysis, and fingernail and toenail loss.

Outbreaks of HFMD are uncommon in the United States, but it is important for travelers to be cautious when going overseas. Several countries in Asia often experience large outbreaks where more than 1,000 people may become infected in a short amount of time. If you plan on traveling overseas, take extra measures to protect yourself. There is no vaccine to prevent HFMD disease so be sure to wash your hands frequently using soap and warm water and disinfect frequently-touched surfaces such as counter tops and toys on a regular basis. You should also avoid close contact, including hugging, kissing or sharing eating utensils or drinks, with an infected person. HFMD is not transmitted to or from pets or other animals.

An individual who has contracted HFMD is typically the most contagious during the first week of illness; however, this varies from person to person. While one person may be contagious for a few days, it may take someone else weeks before they are no longer contagious. Some people, especially adults, may not experience any symptoms at all but can still spread the virus to others. In order to expedite the healing process and to avoid spreading HFMD to others, individuals who become infected should stay home while they are sick. Talk with your health care provider if you are unsure on when you or your child should return to work, school or daycare.

There is no specific treatment for HFMD. An infected individual may take over-the-counter medications to relieve pain and fever. Please note that Aspirin should never be given to children under any circumstance. Some people, especially young children, may become dehydrated if they are not able to swallow enough liquids due to the painful mouth sores. The use of mouthwashes and sprays to numb mouth pain will help to avoid becoming dehydrated.

Should you or your child contract HFMD and you become concerned about the severity of the symptoms, contact your health care provider immediately. If you do not have a primary health care provider, please call 317.880.8687.

Dr. Nydia Nunez-Estrada
Family Medicine
Eskenazi Health Urgent Care East