Symptoms and Signs of Chickenpox vs. Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 9/30/2021

Doctor's Notes on Chickenpox vs. Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

Chickenpox and hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) are both contagious viral illnesses that commonly affect children and cause a rash. The varicella-zoster virus (VZV) causes chickenpox, while the coxsackievirus typically causes HFMD.

Symptoms and signs of chickenpox and hand, foot, and mouth disease that are similar include:

  • rashes that often form blisters,
  • feeling unwell (malaise), and 
  • fever.

A difference is the chickenpox rash starts on the torso and spreads outward over the next 7 to 10 days toward the head, arms, and legs, while the HFMD rash develops mainly in the hands, feet, and mouth.

Complications of both illnesses include encephalitis and dehydration. Complications of chickenpox also include skin infection, pneumonia, neurologic problems, and Reye's syndrome if a child takes aspirin to treat the symptoms. A complication of HFMD also includes viral meningitis.

What Is the Treatment for Chickenpox vs. Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?

There are no medical treatments that can cure chickenpox or hand, foot, and mouth disease. In healthy children, these infections typically go away on their own without treatment.

Medications to control pain and fever may be given, and it is important to ensure your child consumes enough liquids to stay hydrated. To relieve the itch in chickenpox, calamine lotion can be applied to the skin, or cool baths with oatmeal, aluminum acetate, or baking soda may be used.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.