FAQs about Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

childhood illness, disease, hand foot and mouth

FAQs about Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a common childhood illness, with most children being under the age of 5 who get it. It is usually not very serious; however, it can be very contagious. Below are some of the most common questions parents ask about this disease.

What is hand, foot, and mouth disease?

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a common childhood illness that is caused by a virus. Anyone is susceptible to developing it; however, it tends to be most common in young children.

What is the timeframe from exposure to the first symptom?

The incubation period, or timeframe from when the child is first exposed to when his or her first symptom develops, is anywhere from 3-6 days.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Initially, kids’ symptoms tend to mimic the flu and begin as a fever, sore throat, and/or runny nose. The child may then start to develop a rash throughout their body including on the face, mouth, hands, feet, and buttocks. Your child may also develop blisters on these areas and small sores in the mouth.  

How is it diagnosed? 

Typically, your child’s healthcare provider will make the diagnosis based on the child’s physical exam and symptoms. If needed, the provider can swab the child’s throat and send it to the lab for further testing; however, this is not common.

How is it treated?

There is no medicine designed to treat the actual infection of hand, foot, and mouth disease. Treatment is aimed at symptom management. For instance, children with fevers or pain from the sores/blisters can be given Tylenol and Ibuprofen. If Tylenol and Ibuprofen do not seem to manage your child’s symptoms well, then contact the pediatrician’s office.

What are the possible complications of hand, foot, and mouth disease? 

The most common complication is dehydration because of the painful mouth sores that could prevent your child from taking in adequate fluids. You should monitor this closely and try to increase fluids as much as possible. If there is a concern for dehydration, call your pediatrician’s office.

Viral meningitis is another potential complication; however, the risk here is very low. If your child reports headache, neck pain or stiffness, or back pain consult your pediatrician’s office.

Is it contagious and how is it transmitted?

The hand, foot, and mouth are very contagious and can spread quickly from person to person. It spreads from direct physical contact with an infected individual, respiratory droplets when an infected child sneezes or coughs, or contact with a contaminated surface. Children are typically the most contagious during the first week of illness. Due to how contagious it is, children should be kept home from daycare and/or school if they are experiencing symptoms.

How to prevent the spread?

Proper hygiene is the most important way of preventing the spread. Teach children to wash their hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water. Mom and dad should also wash their hands thoroughly, especially after changing diapers. Teach children to cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Disinfect frequently touched surfaces, clean and sterilize toys, avoid sharing drinks, eating utensils, and other items that come into contact with the child’s face and potentially his or her salvia.   

When can my child return to daycare or school?

Your child can return to daycare and/or school when they no longer have a fever, and the open sores/blisters have healed.

When to call your healthcare provider?

Always call your pediatrician if you are concerned the child is dehydrated, the over-the-counter medications (Tylenol and Ibuprofen) are not providing relief, symptoms do not seem to have improved after 10 days, or your child is under 6 months of age.


American Academy of Pediatrics, Hand, Foot, & Mouth Disease: Parent FAQs, July 2016. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease, February 2021. 

Guerra AM, Orille E, Waseem M. Hand Foot And Mouth Disease. [Updated 2021 Aug 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK431082/