Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is a viral infection that mainly affects children under the age of 10. Due to the naming similarities between this infection and 'foot and mouth' disease (FMD), there's a lot of confusion in figuring out which is which.

Don't worry, we're going to explain what HFMD is, what to keep an eye out for, and treatments, as well as the difference between this illness and FMD. If you need support or just someone to talk to, our Sonder support team is available 24/7 to chat whenever you need it.


What is hand, foot, and mouth disease?

HFMD is a viral infection caused by a number of different human viruses (usually coxsackie A, enterovirus, and echovirus) and mainly affects children under 10 years of age, though it can affect older children and adults. This infection causes blisters on the hands and feet, in the mouth, and often around the 'nappy' area.

The disease is generally mild and lasts around a week to 10 days. HFMD is highly contagious and can spread quite easily through contact with the fluid inside the blisters, exposure to droplets (mucus and saliva) spread by the infected individual, or the faeces of the infected individual (which can last for several weeks). The HFMD skin blisters will remain infectious until they become crusty and there's no longer any fluid in the blusters.

How is it different to 'foot and mouth' disease?

Good question! HFMD affects humans whereas FMD is a contagious viral disease that affects cloven-hoofed animals. The most important aspect here is that FMD infections do not affect people (with very, very rare exceptions) and are nothing to worry about for humans (though it's a completely different story for animals sadly).

So while the two diseases have almost identical names, the difference are worlds apart and humans don't need to worry about FMD. For more in-depth information about FMD, we've got you covered right over here.

Symptoms and signs

HFMD has an incubation period of around three to five days after becoming infected before symptoms start showing, and the infection can last from seven to 10 days. Signs and symptoms to keep an eye out for include:

  • Fever

  • Sore throat

  • Painful, red, blister-like lesions on the hands and feet, in the mouth area (including the tongue, gums or inside the cheeks of the mouth), and often around the 'nappy' area.

  • A red skin rash without itching found on the palms, soles and sometimes on the bum.

  • Irritability in infants and toddlers

  • Loss of appetite.

Treatment and prevention

There's no specific treatment for HFMD, but as the infection is mild no treatment is usually required. Having said that, there are a few things you can do to help ease the symptoms:

  • Use paracetamol for fever and discomfort. Don't use aspirin.

  • Plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, but avoid acidic drinks as it may cause pain with mouth ulcers.

  • Cold or soft foods if kids are having trouble swallowing. Avoid hot foods as it can cause the pain to get worse.

  • Leave blisters to dry naturally. Never pierce or squeeze them as the fluid inside is infectious.

If fever persists, a severe headache develops. or if there are any worrying symptoms, contact a doctor immediately.

Good hygiene practices are important for preventing the spread of HFMD, both for the infected individual and their carers:

  • Wash hands carefully and thoroughly with soap and water after any contact with HFMD blisters, after handling nose and throat discharges, or any contact with faeces (such as changing a sick baby's nappy).

  • Disinfect common areas, including changing stations, toilets and frequently touched areas.

  • Use separate eating and drinking utensils.

  • Avoid sharing personal hygiene items (such as towels and toothbrushes) and clothing.

  • Isolate the infected individual until their symptoms subside and all their blisters have dried. This includes excluding them from school and childcare centres.

  • Teach children about good personal hygiene practices.

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Information sourced from: Better Health, HealthyWA, KidsHealth, and The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne

Image credit: MART PRODUCTION at Unsplash

All content is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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