You pick your child up from daycare, and you notice she is developing a fever. A few days later, you see her scratching her palms. Once you notice the small sores that have formed around her mouth, it clicks. Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) has taken hold.
Here’s what you probably didn’t know: Despite its tendency to affect children, hand, foot, and mouth disease, is just as capable of affecting adults. And what’s more, you might not even know you have it.
Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease: A Quick 101
“Much like its name suggests, hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is caused by a contagious virus that classically affects your hands, feet, and mouth, but can actually cause a bumpy or blistery rash all over your body,” stated Lori Noble, MD, physician at Spruce Internal Medicine. “You may develop painful sores in your mouth, and an itchy rash on your hands, feet, arms, legs, buttock, genitals, belly and back."
HFMD cases can range from mild to severe. They are more likely to impact children 5 years and younger, and the disease usually clears up completely within 7 to 10 days. However, adults can catch the virus that causes the disease as well — and even though you may not show any signs of the virus, you still can pass it along to others.
Telltale Signs of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease
Hand, foot, and mouth disease usually begins with a fever, reduced appetite, sore throat, and feeling lethargic.
After developing a fever, painful sores may develop in the mouth. These sores, called herpangina, appear as spots — usually in the back of the mouth. These spots can blister and become painful.
At the same time or shortly after these sores appear, an itchy skin rash can develop on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. The rash may extend to the arms, legs, buttock, genitals, belly and back.
How Hand Foot and Mouth Disease Spreads
HFMD is caused by a contagious virus that can be passed from one person to another through nose and throat secretions including saliva or mucus, blister fluid, or feces.
You can also be exposed to the virus by:
- Having close personal contact with an infected person
- Breathing infected air from a sick person’s sneeze or cough
- Touching contaminated objects, such as toys or doorknobs
- Coming in contact with infected water, including swimming pools
If you have HFMD, you are the most contagious for the first week, until the blisters scab over, however, you can be contagious for several days after your symptoms go away.
The Trouble With Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease in Adults
While children often show some level of symptoms, many adults do not have noticeable symptoms — or their symptoms may not be correctly linked to HFMD.
But HFMD is contagious in people of all ages. Because adults will often not show any signs of the disease, good hygiene is the key to staying healthy.
Simple Steps to Treat Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease — and Prevent It From Spreading
There are several easy steps you can take to treat and prevent the spread of HFMD. Talk to your physician about which treatment options may be right for you or your child — or if you have any concerns about persistent symptoms.
“It’s important to keep children hydrated and give them soft food that they can tolerate while they’re sick. It’s okay if that means just applesauce and yogurt for a couple of days,” said Dr. Noble.