Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease sounds grim, and the rash that typically accompanies it isn’t pretty. While it is most prevalent in children, adults can contract and spread it, too. So, how serious is HFMD and what treatments are there?
What is HFMD?
Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease is caused by a virus (Coxsackievirus Type A) and typically presents itself as blisters on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and inside the mouth — hence the name.
HFMD is very common and very contagious. And so it tends to spread quickly in environments that contain young children or people living in close quarters. The good news is that an infection is typically mild and symptoms will pass in about a week. It’s at its peak in summer and fall, but outbreaks can happen any time of year.
What Are the Symptoms of HFMD?
A person with HFMD may present some or all of the following symptoms:
- Fever — This is generally the first sign of an infection and can be low-grade or as high as 105°F. It will last 2-3 days.
- Fatigue — Tiredness, irritability, and in general feeling unwell.
- Runny nose
- Skin rash — Small red bumps appear on the hands and feet a day or two after the fever. These bumps last about 10 days. In some cases, the skin will peel afterward.
- Cough and/or sore throat
- Blisters — The rash can turn into fluid-filled blisters, sometimes painful.
- Painful mouth sores — These can appear throughout the mouth, on the throat, and sometimes tongue and lips. They last about a week.
- Decreased appetite — due to the painful sores in the mouth, it can hurt to eat.
Some people, particularly adults, can be completely asymptomatic, but still pass the virus to others.
Can I Prevent HFMD?
HFMD spreads easily. The virus that causes HFMD can live on surfaces for days. By touching these surfaces and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, you can contract the virus. You can also get HFMD by breathing in respiratory droplets from an infected person’s cough, sneeze, or speech. The virus lives in an infected person’s saliva, nasal mucus, feces, and fluid-filled blisters. Hugging, kissing, and sharing personal items (eating utensils, towels, toothpaste tubes, etc) are all ways to easily spread the virus.
An infected person is most contagious during the first few days of being sick (which is often before the rash appears). Once the blisters dry up, they are less likely to spread the virus — though it’s still possible. The virus can stay in the body for weeks, so there is still a potential of passing on the virus even after all symptoms are gone.
There is no vaccine to prevent HFMD. And since HFMD is so contagious, it’s difficult to prevent an outbreak once it has started. However, taking common-sense measures can help to contain the outbreak as much as possible and limit the spread. This includes keeping a sanitary environment (disinfecting often), washing hands frequently, and avoiding close contact with an infected person.
How Can I Treat HFMD?
If you’re already dealing with HFMD, you simply have to wait for the virus to run its course — which may be 7-10 days for symptoms to pass.
In the meantime, focus on comfort measures to manage symptoms, and fluid intake to prevent dehydration:
- Administer over-the-counter pain medications (never aspirin for children) for fever and pain.
- To alleviate mouth pain, try a DIY “magic mouthwash” of an antihistamine (like Benadryl) plus an antacid (like Mylanta), mixed in equal parts and dabbed on the sores in the mouth of young children. For older children or adults, swish the mixture around in the mouth and spit it out.
- For young children, Pedialyte popsicles can serve a dual purpose of soothing the mouth as well as hydrating the child.
When Should I See a Doctor for HFMD?
Since HFMD typically resolves on its own, you only need to see a doctor if you have concerns about severe or worsening symptoms, experience long-lasting symptoms, or already have a weakened immune system.
Additionally, call your doctor if you or your child:
- Complain of a stiff neck (could be a symptom of meningitis)
- Have not urinated in eight hours or are producing dark urine (sign of possible dehydration)
We’re Here if You Need Us.
A skin rash is a common symptom of a wide variety of health conditions, so if you have any concern at all about a rash that is bothering you, our friendly doctors here at In and Out Express Care will be glad to take a look. We treat children as young as two years old. Visit one of our four urgent care clinics in Hampton Roads so we can help you feel better fast!