By Meron Tesfai

What is it?

Hand, foot & mouth disease (HFMD) is a common disease in babies and young children. Its name comes from the blister-like spots seen in the mouth and on the soles and palms of an affected child. The disease can cause dehydration and be serious for some small children.  Adults can get it too!

How do I know my child has it?

Not all children have symptoms, but if they do have them they can include:

  • Fever;
  • Poor appetite;
  • Sore throat;
  • Headache;
  • Small painful blisters inside the mouth on tongue, inside of the cheeks, and gums (that last 4 to 6 days);
  • Rash or blisters on the palms of hands, on fingers, and on the soles of the feet for 7 to 10 days; or
  • Blisters that appear on the knees, elbows, buttocks, or genital area.

How do people catch HFMD?

HFMD is found in the feces (stool), mucus and spit of an infected person. You can catch it by:

  • Breathing in air after an infected person close to you has sneezed or coughed;
  • Touching the feces of an infected person (ex. changing a diaper);
  • Touching the nose (mucus) and throat (spit, sputum) of an infected person and touching your own eyes, nose or mouth; or
  • Touching objects like toys and door handles contaminated by the virus.

Infected children are most contagious during the first week of the illness, but the virus can remain in the body for weeks after a person’s symptoms are gone. This means that infected people can still pass the infection to others even though they may appear well.

What do I do if my child is sick?

Take your child to your doctor to confirm that it is HFMD.  There is no treatment for HFMD. However, taking over the counter medications can relieve some of the symptoms. (Aspirin should not be given to children.) Also:

  • Stay hydrated is important, give your child cool fluids.
  • Avoid spicy or acidic foods and drinks since they may make sores in the mouth more painful.

How can you prevent HFMD?

There is no vaccine for HFMD; however you can lower risk of infection by:

  • Washing hands with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom;
  • Carefully throwing out diapers and any soiled articles;
  • Wearing gloves when applying lotions or treatment to sores;
  • Cleaning and disinfecting all common toys and diaper changing areas (first wash with soap and water then disinfect with one solution of chlorine bleach made by mixing 1 tablespoon of beach with 4 cups of water); and
  • Avoiding close contact (kissing, hugging, sharing cups) with infected persons.

Should sick children or staff be excluded from school or daycare?

Children who have a fever should stay home for 24 hours after the fever has gone away without fever reducing medicine. Children who do not feel well enough to participate in activities should also stay home. Adults who have a fever or who do not feel well enough to work should also remain at home.

Remember – clean hands save lives!

For more information, go to or call us at 617-534-5611

Meron Tesfai is a project manager in the Infectious Disease Bureau’s Education and Outreach Office.