University Health Service

What is hand, foot and mouth disease?

It is an illness that causes sores in or on the mouth, on hands and feet, and sometimes on buttocks and legs. The sores may be painful. The illness usually doesn't last more than a week.

It is common in children but can also occur in adults. It can occur at any time of year but is most common in the summer and fall.

It is not the same as other diseases that have similar names, such as foot and mouth disease (sometimes called hoof and mouth disease) or mad cow disease. These diseases almost always occur in animals.

What are the symptoms?

At first you may feel tired, get a sore throat, or have a fever of around 101-103°F (38-39°C). After a day or two, sores or blisters may appear. In some cases, a skin rash may appear before the blisters. The blisters may break open and crust over. The sores and blisters usually go away in a week or so.

In some cases, people have no symptoms, or symptoms are very mild.

What causes hand, foot and mouth disease?

It is caused by a virus called an enterovirus. The virus can be spread through contact with an infected individual’s nose and throat secretions (such as saliva, sputum or nasal mucus), blister fluid and feces (stool).

Often the disease breaks out within a community.

Symptoms usually appear 3-6 days after being exposed to the virus. This is called the incubation period.

How is it diagnosed?

A health care provider can tell by the symptoms you describe and by looking at the sores and blisters. Tests usually aren't needed.

How is it transmitted?

The virus may be spread to another person through:

  • Close personal contact
  • The air through coughing or sneezing
  • Contact with feces
  • Contact with contaminated objects and surfaces

How can spread be prevented?

Hand, foot and mouth disease is highly contagious. If you have this disease, limit exposure to others while you have active signs and symptoms, especially fever.

There is no vaccine to protect against the virus that causes hand, foot, and mouth disease.

To reduce risk of infection:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water, especially after using the toilet
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and soiled items
  • Avoid close contact such as kissing, hugging, or sharing eating utensils or cups/water bottles

How is it treated?

This disease usually doesn't need treatment. You can use home care to help relieve symptoms.

  • Drink plenty of cool fluids to help with sore throat. Cold foods such as ice, flavored ice and ice cream also may help.
  • Avoid spicy foods and drinks, such as salsa or orange juice. These foods can make mouth sores more painful.
  • For pain and fever, you may take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen (such as Advil). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • If you have mouth sores, it might be painful to swallow. However, it is important to drink enough liquids to prevent dehydration (loss of body fluids). If you cannot swallow enough liquids, you may need to receive them intravenously (IV).

For more information:

To use UHS, see Schedule an Appointment -- Appointments are required for most medical services, although options are available for urgent problems

Nurse Advice by Phone is available day and night, which may save a trip to UHS, the ER or an urgent care facility.

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