Fort Worth, Texas,
10:25 AM

Let's learn something: Hand Foot and Mouth Disease!

Dr. Diane gives us the facts on this 'super contagious' virus

I always hear the "Jaws" music playing in my head when I see these little ones toddle into my office. Dun dun...there's the rash....dun dun....fever too....dun dun...won't eat or drink much....dun diagnosis is given...DUN DUN..."What! Hand Foot and Mouth!? I was so afraid you'd say that!" Initiate Worried Parent Panic Mode.

For starters:

  1. No, it's not that cattle disease with a similar name. Heehee. 
  2. Yes, it's super contagious. 
  3. Nope - no reason to freak out. We see it all the time. You probably had it when you were a kid.
  4. Go get some popsicles. I'm gonna prescribe them.

Hand Foot and Mouth Disease (HFM from here on out) is caused by a virus. What does that mean? Come on - I know you're sick of hearing me say it - that means no antibiotics needed! Woo hoo! This is a virus which your strong kiddo can clear on his own!

Most of the time this happens in kids under 5. They catch it from day care or school classmates. Usually they catch it by getting oral secretions or fecal secretions in their mouth or airway from a buddy. I'll let your imagination run wild on the methods kids go through to experience this fun transfer of germs. It's really contagious.

People with HFM are most contagious during the first week of their illness. However, they may be contagious for weeks after symptoms go away. Some people, especially adults, may not develop any symptoms, but they can still spread the viruses to others.

This is a common SUMMER virus! But can happen any time of year.

Soon after catching it (like 3-5 days), kids start with a fever and a new rash. The fever is usually low (under 101) but can be high at times. Sometimes they have a runny nose, or other cold symptoms.

The rash is unique. They're red spots with/without thick bubbles of fluid.

Usually, they're on or in the mouth, and on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Hence the name. However, I joke with parents that it should be called "Hand-Foot-Mouth-Butt-Arms-Legs" because you can see the spots in other places, too.

HFM is commonly mistaken for other things. Often, parents worry about chicken pox. Remember - chicken pox is itchy and tender. HFM is not. People also mistake these for bug bites - again, not itchy like bug bites are.

The mouth sores hurt. They're typically the main complication I see with HFM - they hurt so much kids don't want to eat or drink. The eating I don't mind -but it's important that they drink. Load up on popsicles. All my "sugar rules" go out the door when a kiddo has HFM. Sometimes if it's really bad we will prescribe a mouthwash for pain.

Something else you should know - more than one strain of virus causes this bad boy. So kids can get it more than once. And if an older child/adult catches it? It can be more troublesome/painful than in a younger person.

It'll go away on its own. This can typically take 7-10 days. The fevers usually last just a couple of those days. Kids typically are just fine. It's actually adults that can experience the worst of it!

Hope this helps!


Dr. Diane


Get to know Diane Arnaout, M.D.

Dr. Diane Arnaout joined the Cook Children's Willow Park practice in 2011. You can stay connected with Dr. Arnaout and the Willow Park practice on Facebook. Dr. Arnaout was born and raised in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. She attended college at Texas A&M University and medical school at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio. She did her pediatric internship and residency at Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital and M.D. Anderson at the Texas Medical Center in Houston, TX where she served as a leader on the medical education committees. She is a board-certified pediatrician. Click to learn more.

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