Hand, foot and mouth disease is an illness that mainly affects young children.
It’s not to be confused with foot and mouth disease, which affects animals like cows, pigs and sheep and can’t be caught by humans.
In this article, we’ll give you the facts about hand, foot and mouth disease and how you can avoid it.
More about hand, foot and mouth disease
While this disease mainly affects children under 10, it can also be caught by older children and adults too.
In most cases, it’s caused by infection with a virus (the coxsackievirus).
It spreads easily and can be very common in childcare settings and in households with children.
Hand, foot and mouth disease symptoms
The illness is usually mild and only rarely leads to a serious condition.
One of the earliest symptoms is blisters that first appear as small red dots and then develop into ulcers.
They may appear inside the mouth and on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. The blisters may also be seen in the nappy area.
They tend to last from seven to 10 days.
Other symptoms include:
- Mild fever
- Sore throat
- Loss of appetite
In rare cases, the virus that causes hand, foot and mouth disease may also affect the heart, brain, spinal cord, eyes or lungs.
You can find out more about the symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease, including a photo of the blisters, and other information on The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne website.
How is hand, foot and mouth disease spread?
The disease is spread by close contact with an infected person — for example, by coming into contact with fluid from the blisters or droplets from coughing and sneezing.
It usually takes between three and five days for blisters to appear after contact with the infected person.
Hand, foot and mouth disease treatment
There is no special treatment for hand, foot and mouth disease.
If your child has a fever, you can keep track of their temperature using a good-quality thermometer and give them paracetamol to relieve their symptoms. You can also try cooling products to make them feel more comfortable.
It’s best to leave the blisters alone. Just let them dry out naturally. Don’t try to burst them, as the fluid inside is infectious.
Your child may find it sore or painful to drink because of blisters inside the mouth, so ensure that they keep hydrated.
While it’s very unusual for hand, foot and mouth disease to produce severe symptoms, you should look out for:
- A fever of 38 °C or above for 72 hours or more
- Unusual movements
- Rapid breathing
- Extreme tiredness
- Difficulty walking
If you are worried about your child, you should get medical help straight away.
How long should I keep my child away from school or childcare?
Keep your child at home until any blisters have dried up, any rash has gone and there is no fever.
While they are away from school or childcare, you should also ensure they keep away from other settings where they could pass this very infectious disease on.
How to prevent hand, foot and mouth disease
One of the most important ways to prevent the spread of hand, foot and mouth disease is to practise good hygiene:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and encourage your child to do the same.
- Use hand sanitiser in between handwashing to kill the germs that cause disease.
- Avoid sharing eating utensils, cups, towels and clothing at home while a family member has hand, foot and mouth disease.
- Wash clothing or items like towels that the affected person has used at a hot temperature.
- Disinfect surfaces like door handles and light switches, as well as toys that your infected child has touched.
- Encourage your child to cough or sneeze into their bent elbow or into a tissue.
- Tissues should be disposed of straight away.
- Remember to wash hands after coughs and sneezes.
- Consider wearing a face mask when caring for someone with hand, foot and mouth disease.
- Keep your child at home while they have hand, foot and mouth disease.
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At some point, a young child may pick up a highly infectious condition like hand, foot and mouth disease.
Be prepared by stocking up on health and wellbeing products. See our full range of products like thermometers, hand sanitisers and cooling products to help you and your family through minor childhood illnesses in our online shop.
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