Why is hand foot and mouth disease a common childhood condition?

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If your child has fever, rashes on his hands and feet and has mouth sores, then it may be Hand Foot and Mouth Disease. Here's what you should know.

In a study published this year, experts stated that hand foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is no longer considered a disease of the cattle. It has become a common childhood disease.

In 2013 also India saw an increase in the number of cases of HFMD. In fact, in an interview to a leading daily, Dr Mallikarjuna Swamy, chief paediatrician, BGS Global Hospitals, Bangalore, had stated, “Of every 10 patients I get, two have it. The disease is seasonal. Usually when schools reopen, we get such cases. But this year there is a definite rise.”

Characterised by rashes and mouth sores, HFMD is usually not fatal but it does come with its fair share of discomfort to children who contract it.


HFMD is a contagious viral infection common in infants and children under the age of five. It is characterized by rashes in the hand and feet and painful mouth sores.

Signs and Symptoms of Hand Foot and Mouth Disease

The first signs of HFMD usually involve:

  • Fever
  • Reduced appetite
  • Sore throat
  • Feeling of being unwell
Hand Foot and Mouth Disease

During the Hand Foot and Mouth Disease, you should know that a child may suffer from temperature, reduced appetite and even sore throat among other things

These symptoms are then followed by:

  • Painful ulcers in the mouth, throat and tongue
  • Rash or small blisters on the palms of hands, soles of feet or buttocks
  • Bouts of vomiting and diarrhea 

However, these symptoms may not apply for everyone. Some people may show no symptoms at all, but it is still possible to pass on the virus to others.

Causes and Transmission

HFMD is commonly caused by Coxsackievirus, which part of the Enterovirus group.
Coxsackievirus can spread through direct contact with nose and throat discharge, saliva, fluid from blisters and the stool of infected persons.

Risk Factors

The disease is common in kids who attend school or play centers. Being in close quarters with other children–where common areas and items are shared and not always cleaned immediately–means viruses can be easily spread.

As children age, they usually build an immunity to Hand Foot and Mouth Disease thanks to developing antibodies. However, it is still probable for older kids and adults to contract the disease

Continue reading to find out when to call the doctor if you detect your child has Hand Foot and Mouth Disease


  • Dehydration is the most common complication of Hand Foot and Mouth Disease. The painful mouth and throat sores, that make swallowing a painful activity, can cause a child to refuse both eating and drinking. Thus, it is crucial to monitor a child’s liquid intake. As a preventative measure, talk to your pediatrician on how to avoid dehydration and what to do in case you suspect it.
  • Viral meningitis* causes the membranes and cerebrospinal fluids around the spine and brain to be inflamed. This leads to back pain, stiff neck, headache. The infected child may need to be hospitalized.
  • Encephalitis* is the inflammation of the brain caused by a viral infection. It may be life-threatening.
  • Nail loss for both fingers and toes, though temporary, has been reported. However, it is yet to be proven whether the disease, in fact, causes this.

*Note: Both rarely occur when a child has Hand Foot and Mouth Disease.

hand foot and mouth disease

During hand foot and mouth disease, a child can be highly irritable and therefore, needs utmost attention

When to Call the Doctor

If you detect either the early or the following symptoms, know that it’s time to call the speacialists.

  • Becomes extremely irritable
  • Refuses to eat and drink
  • Is sluggish
  • Seems to get worse
  • Looks dehydrated (dehydration symptoms: little to no tears when crying; decreased frequency of urination or dark, yellow urine; irritability; lethargy; dry, sticky mouth; dry, cool skin; fatigue in older children; sunken eyes; soft spot or fontanelle looks sunken for babies)

Tests and Diagnosis

Doctors are usually able to distinguish mouth sores caused by Hand Foot and Mouth Disease by considering the following: age of the infected child, symptoms and the appearance of the sores and/or rashes.

The doctor may also get a throat swab and request for stool sample to be sent to the laboratory to confirm the presence of the virus.

Continue reading for treatments and drugs, lifestyle remedies and preventive methods for Hand Foot Mouth Disease

Treatments and Drugs

There are no treatments for Hand Foot and Mouth Disease. There are, however, ways to alleviate the discomfort felt by the child:

  • Over the counter medications for pain and fever relief. Do not give children aspirin as it may lead to the development of a rare illness called Reye syndrome, a condition that causes the brain and liver to swell. The syndrome is usually common in children recovering from viral infection.
  • Mouthwash or sprays that numb pain in mouth and throat.

Lifestyle and Home Remedies

Aside from medication, there are other things that you can do at home:

  • To numb pain from the mouth and throat, give cold treats such as ice cream, popsicles, sherbet, shakes, especially to children who find it difficult to swallow. The child can also suck on ice chips.
  • Keep the areas with blisters clean. Wash them using lukewarm water and soap. Pat them dry gently with a towel. For blisters that pop, apply an antibiotic ointment and cover with bandage to prevent infection.
  • Keep the child hydrated by offering cold water or milk. Do not offer acidic drinks such as soda and fruit drinks.
hand foot and mouth disease

When diagnosed with the hand foot and mouth disease, give the child as much liquid as possible to clean the internal system

  • Offer the child soft food that don’t require much chewing such as curd rice, poha, khichdi or chicken soup. Avoid giving spicy and salty food that can make the sores sting.
  • Have the child rinse his mouth with warm water after meals. If he is old enough to rinse without swallowing, put some salt into the rinse to help reduce inflammation of sores.


Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for Hand Foot and Mouth Disease. However, there are simple things that the whole family, school or daycare center can do to prevent the contraction and spreading of the disease:

  • Wash hands frequently with water and soap, especially after coming from the bathroom, changing diapers and before and after handling food. If water and soap is unavailable, use alcohol or hand sanitizers.
  • Clean and disinfect common areas or shared items (toys, for example) to prevent the spread of the disease as some viruses can live in areas or items after a few days.
  • Teach proper hygiene. Explain why kids should keep themselves clean frequently and why they should avoid putting their fingers or other objects in their mouth.
  • Stay away from others infected with HFMD. Avoid using their utensils or drinking glasses as well.

Do you have any more insights on the hand foot and mouth disease? Please share in the Comment box below.

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