Pediatric HealthSource: Treating Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease in Children

This highly contagious virus, which causes a rash and other symptoms, is common in summer and fall. It spreads easily in day care and swimming pools.

Dr. Mike Patrick
Hand, foot and mouth disease is common in toddlers.

Q: I think my son may have hand-foot-mouth disease. Do I need to go to a doctor to receive treatment?

A: Hand, foot and mouth disease is a common illness caused by a virus. It’s most prevalent in children and usually occurs in summer and fall. The disease is spread from person to person through saliva and stool, especially during the first week of their illness.

Symptoms, which often disappear in about a week, vary somewhat from one child to another. Parents should look for fever; headaches; sore throat; poor appetite; painful sores (ulcers) on the throat, tonsils and mouth; and a rash of very small blisters or red spots on the hands, feet, face and diaper area. The rash may be mildly itchy or painful if pressed.

Hand, foot and mouth disease cannot be treated with antibiotics, but the symptoms can be managed at home. Acetaminophen can be used for headache, fever and sore throat. Ibuprofen may be used for children older than 6 months. Saltwater mouth rinses of one-half teaspoon of salt to one glass of warm water may be soothing if your child is able to rinse without swallowing. Children older than 1 year should be given lots of liquids, such as water, milk and ice pops. Fruit juices that are high in acid may irritate mouth sores and should be avoided. Children younger than 1 should be given breast milk, formula or fluids that replenish electrolytes.

The virus that causes Hand, foot and mouth disease may be present in your child’s stool for several weeks after the symptoms are gone. This is why the virus spreads easily in day care centers and swimming pools. Washing hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before eating, and after changing diapers and using the restroom, helps reduce its spread.

If symptoms last beyond a week, make an appointment with your child’s medical provider. Call the pediatrician immediately if your child is dehydrated, has neck or chest pain, has a fever that doesn’t come down with medication, or shows signs of seizures or lethargy.

Always consult your child’s pediatrician concerning your child’s health.

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Mike Patrick, M.D., is an emergency medicine physician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Mike Patrick

Control the Spread

Hand, foot and mouth disease is transmitted through saliva and stool. To help prevent the virus from spreading, families should:

  • Wash hands – Use soap and water to wash hands frequently and for at least 20 seconds, especially after changing diapers or using the restroom.
  • Disinfect – Clean bathrooms with disinfectant as well as toys and other objects your child touches.
  • Avoid contact – Touching the eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands can spread disease easily. If you suspect someone has Hand, foot and mouth disease, don’t kiss, hug or share dishes or utensils with them.

This story is from the Summer 2021 issue of Columbus Parent.