Hand, foot and mouth disease is a common, mild, short-lasting illness caused by enterovirus (coxsackie virus), and spread through droplets via coughing and sneezing. It gets its name from the rash you get on the palms of your hand and the soles of your feet. It also may cause ulcers in the mouth. It is a non itchy rash. Many patients may be infected with the virus and yet have no symptoms.

It is highly contagious and is very common among children below 10 years of age. As well as from coughing and sneezing, it is spread also from coming in contact of the saliva or other bodily fluids of an infected person. Usually, no treatment is required as it is a viral illness which will be cleared up by the body in 7-10 days.





The signs and symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease are generally self limiting. They include, but are not limited to, the following:

Fever and general feeling of being unwell

loss of appetite

sore throat

small, painless red rash inside the mouth, on the throat and palms and soles

After a few days the painless rash will progress into painful ulcers. Difficulty swallowing maybe experienced at this stage due to painful ulcers.

Rash on the rest of the body remains non itchy, which is a good differentiating factor between other rash-causing illnesses such as measles and chicken pox.


General measures for symptomatic relief should be used to manage a patient with hand, foot and mouth disease. These include:


good hydration

paracetamol for pain/ fever relief

For the painful mouth ulcers, over the counter numbing gels, sprays or mouthwash can be used.

It is best to avoid aspirin in all children under 16 years of age, to avoid the risk of Reye’s syndrome.


Although hand, foot and mouth disease is largely a benign viral illness that will resolve on its own in 7-10 days, some patients may develop complications of the disease. These include:


Secondary infection, usually of the sores. If this happens, your GP may prescribe you an antibiotic to treat the secondary bacterial infection.

Viral meningitis. While a rare complication, some patients may get viral meningitis after hand foot and mouth disease. Symptoms of viral meningitis include drowsiness, fever, neck stiffness, vomiting, and photophobia (disliking bright lights). If any of these symptoms, please check in with your GP as soon as possible.

Encephalitis. It is also a rare but dangerous complication of hand, foot and mouth disease, where the brain may become infected and cause it to swell. The symptoms are similar to meningitis, but patients with encephalitis may also experience seizures (fits). Patients with encephalitis require hospital admission and aggressive management. Most people make a full recovery.

Dr. Annie

Physician, mom and wife

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