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Symptoms and Signs of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

Doctor's Notes on Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a common viral illness that most often occurs in the spring and fall and is most frequently seen in young children, infants, and toddlers.

Initial symptoms of hand, foot, and mouth disease include fever and general malaise (poor appetite, aches and pains, etc.). These symptoms last about one to two days before a blister-like rash develops on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and in the mouth. The blisters may develop on the gums, inner cheeks, and tongue, and may cause mouth pain and a sore throat. Patients often drool and avoid swallowing and may refuse to drink or eat because of the discomfort. Very young infants may become dehydrated due to the refusal to drink.

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease Symptoms

Hand, foot, and mouth disease usually occurs in the spring and fall seasons but may occur at any time during the year. The initial symptoms include

  • fever and
  • general malaise (poor appetite, aches and pains, etc.).

These symptoms generally last one to two days before a blister-like rash develops on the hands, feet, and in the mouth. The rash initially appears as small red spots but then develops into vesicles (blisters). The blisters may develop on the gums, inner cheeks, and tongue, and patients may complain of mouth pain and a sore throat. These young patients tend to drool and avoid swallowing and may refuse to drink or eat because of the discomfort. Very young infants may even become dehydrated due to the refusal to drink.

Rarely, other more serious complications occur, including viral meningitis (aseptic meningitis) and encephalitis. The symptoms associated with these complications include

If your child has any of these additional symptoms, you should seek medical attention.

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease Causes

  • Hand, foot, and mouth disease is generally caused by coxsackievirus A-16, which is a member of the enterovirus family.
  • There are other types of enteroviruses that can cause the symptoms as well, but these are less common.

Children usually become infected with the virus from other children in an fecal-oral pattern; that is, infection is acquired from exposure to infected fecal material or oral secretions (nasal discharge, saliva, etc.).

The incubation period (time between exposure and symptoms) is usually five days.

Picture of characteristic rash and blisters of hand foot and mouth disease
Picture of characteristic rash and blisters of hand foot and mouth disease

Common Childhood Skin Disorders Slideshow

Common Childhood Skin Disorders  Slideshow

Finding a bump, rash, red mark, or welt on a child's body is more common than not finding one. Most of these are not worrisome; however, some may be more concerning than others. We will present some information about common skin findings in this slide presentation to help patient's better identify them. As always, if there is any concern, always consult the child's doctor to be sure.

REFERENCE:

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

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