IllnesschevronHand, Foot and Mouth Disease

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

By Joanna Zamora (She/Her)
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How severe is Hand, Foot, and Mouth?

Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease can usually be treated at home and serious complications are rare.

What causes Hand, Foot, and Mouth?

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease is caused by viruses in the Enterovirus family. In the US the most common virus is Coxsackievirus A16. Occasionally, other enteroviruses can cause Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease and can be associated with more serious symptoms. Kiddos get Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease when they come into contact with infected saliva, drool, or boogers; other kiddos’ infected blisters and scabs; and other kiddos’ infected poop. The viruses that cause Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease can spread via infected kiddos’ poop for 6-8 weeks after the start of symptoms.

Who gets Hand, Foot, and Mouth?

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease is most common in kids younger than 5 years old. Hand, Foot, and Mouth is incredibly common in daycare and preschool settings and most kiddos will have at least one bout.

Is Hand, Foot, and Mouth contagious?

Highly contagious
Spreads by contact

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease is very contagious and spreads easily between kids. Usually adults are protected because they develop immunity as children, but adults can still get infected with Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. Preventative measures are important if someone in your family is showing symptoms. Symptoms of Hand, Foot and Mouth are usually much more severe in adults compared to children.

What are the symptoms of Hand, Foot, and Mouth?

Hand, Foot and Mouth follows a progression:

The rash looks like slightly raised small bumps of various sizes that may blister and scab. Hand, Foot, and Mouth can look different depending on skin tone:

Lighter skin tones

On lighter skin tones, the bumps tend to have a thin halo of redness.

Darker skin tones

On darker skin tones, the bumps may appear lighter than the surrounding skin. (Photo via brownskinmatters)

How to protect your child from Hand, Foot, and Mouth?

The best way to protect kids from Hand, Foot, and Mouth is handwashing! Since, as we all know, babies and toddlers aren’t the best at handwashing, make sure all the grown-ups in your kid’s life are. If you have an infected family member, be sure to be extra attentive to handwashing in order to prevent the spread in your household.

What to do if your kid has Hand, Foot, and Mouth?

When to seek medical care

  • If your kiddo is less than 6 months old. We want to keep an eye on the tiniest humans.
  • If your kiddo isn’t drinking enough to stay hydrated. You may notice that they have fewer wet diapers or darker pee than usual; their mouth is dry or sticky, they seem drowsy or dizzy, or their eyes look sunken.
  • If the rash, sores, and/or fever are severe.
  • If the disease hasn’t resolved itself in 10 days.
  • If your kiddo has a weakened immune system.


Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease is caused by a virus, so there’s no cure. Usually your kiddo’s immune system will fight off the virus in about a week to 10 days. Here are some things you can do to help your kiddo at home:

  • Keep your kid out of school or daycare until they don’t have a fever and all the blisters and sores have healed.
  • You can give over-the-counter pain relief meds like Tylenol and Motrin/Ibuprofen (if your kid is over 6 months) to help with the fever and painful mouth sores. Our handy Dosage Calculator can help you with the right dose.
  • Keep your kiddo hydrated. For babies, popsicles made of frozen breastmilk or formula can be soothing. For older kiddos, fruit popsicles or smoothies can help when eating hurts. Pro-tip: let your kiddo eat their popsicle in the bath, warm water can be soothing to the sores and there’s less messy popsicle clean-up.
  • Keep the Hand, Foot, and Mouth blisters or scabs clean and keep covered with bandages or clothes if possible to help your kid avoid touching or scratching.
  • Avoid bathing kiddos together until the rash heals.
  • Change your kiddo’s clothes, sheets, and towels often to avoid spreading the disease.


Most cases of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease clear up in a week to 10 days. Make sure to contact your healthcare provider if your kiddo still has active sores or fever after the 10-day mark.

Anything else?

  • Preschool and daycare professionals are pretty experienced at identifying Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. Most facilities will notify parents if kiddos in care have been diagnosed with Hand, Foot, and Mouth so you can be on the lookout for symptoms. If your kid is infected, do alert your care setting so they can inform other parents.
  • Peeling skin of the palms and soles can sometimes happen 1-3 weeks after the initial symptoms resolve. The peeling is superficial and not harmful.
  • Occasionally, 3-8 weeks after initial symptoms resolve, fingernails and toenails can develop ridges called beau lines or nails can completely fall off. If this happens, rest assured that the nails will grow back normally over time.
DisclaimerThis illness guide is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
911If you think your child may have a life threatening emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
Headshot of Joanna Zamora, MD, Pediatrician, She/Her
Joanna Zamora (She/Her)

Dr. Joanna Zamora is a board-certified pediatrician with over 10 years of clinical experience. Dr. Zamora graduated Summa Cum Laude from Vanderbilt University with a Bachelor of Music degree in Piano Performance and Psychology. She attended medical school at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center and completed her pediatric residency training at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Dr. Zamora was born in South Africa, spent her childhood in Canada, and is now happy to call Portland home. Dr. Zamora is passionate about providing trauma-informed care and helping families navigate a complex healthcare system.

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