Hand, foot and mouth disease, widely known as HMFD, is a highly contagious viral infection that is common in young children, especially ages 5 and under. However, anyone can get it and is most likely to occur in summer and fall months. The virus can be spread through contact with feces, fluid in the blisters, saliva, or mucus.

A fever is usually the first sign of the virus, followed by a reduced appetite and sore throat. After a few days, painful sores (red-yellowish blisters) can develop in the back of the throat and mouth.  A skin rash with red spots may appear in the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, as well as on the knees, elbows and buttocks area. In 4% of cases fingernails and toenails may fall off, this most likely will occur at 3 to 6 weeks out. Fingernails grow back by 3 to 6 months and toenails by 9 to 12 months and will look normal. Peeling of the fingers and toes is also common.  It may look bad, but is harmless.

Treatment is supportive with making sure your child drinks plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. This includes water, pedialyte, or milk. Cold or soft foods, such as popsicles, ice cream, yogurt or jello are the most soothing given the sores on the throat. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) can be given to ease painful mouth sores or discomfort from the fever. 

While there is no medical cure or vaccination for HFMD, your child’s pediatrician can recommend ways to make your child more comfortable while the illness runs its course. Symptoms usually go away without treatment within several days to a week. Occasionally some complications could arise, such as dehydration due to not being able to swallow enough liquids because of painful mouth sores. Call your child’s pediatrician if your child is sluggish, can’t be comforted or seems to be getting worse. 

Cody Silker, DO