Hand, foot, and mouth disease, or HFMD, is a contagious disease caused by viruses (enterovirus genus) that commonly affect infants and children. Several viruses are included in the enterovirus group including coxsackieviruses, echoviruses, polioviruses, and enteroviruses. In the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common cause of the disease is the coxsackievirus A16.
Some people associate the condition with the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) affecting animals including cattle, sheep, and pigs. The viruses that cause HFMD are different from those that cause FMD. In addition, people do not get infected with FMD, the same way that animals do not get infected with the human disease.
HFMD is commonly spread through a direct contact with the body fluids of an infected person, such as saliva, blister fluid, and droplets from sneezing or coughing. An infected person who does not practice proper hygiene may also spread the virus through his or her stool.
A person who gets infected with hand, foot, and mouth disease usually experiences fever, body malaise or feeling of being unwell, poor appetite, and sore throat. After a day or two, following the start of fever, painful sores usually start to develop in the mouth. Initially, the sores start as red spots on the tongue, gums and the inner lining of the cheeks, which blister and can become painful ulcers.
Skin rashes, which may be accompanied by blisters, may develop on the palms and soles of the feet. In others, rashes may develop on their buttocks, as well.
Some people with the condition may only have a rash, while others may only have sores in their mouth. Yet, other people with HFMD may not develop symptoms at all.
Fortunately, most cases of HFMD are not serious and most people with the condition typically recover within 7-10 days without special medical treatment. The goal of treatment for hand, foot, and mouth disease is to relieve fever and pain from sores.
According to the CDC, people with the disease can take over-the-counter fever and pain medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Aspirin should not be given to children.
Mouth discomfort can be managed with mouthwashes or sprays that may help numb the pain.
To prevent dehydration, the CDC recommends drinking enough fluids. Children may refuse to drink juices because of the acid content that causes mouth ulcer pain. In this case, cold milk products may be best for them.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Viral Diseases. Hand, Foot, & Mouth Disease (HFMD). http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/revb/enterovirus/hfhf.htm. Accessed October 21, 2010.
MedlinePlus. Hand-foot-mouth disease. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000965.htm. Accessed October 21, 2010.