Hand, foot and mouth disease is a highly contagious viral infection that mostly affects children under the age of 10. Whilst the condition can be unpleasant for your child and make them feel uncomfortable, in most cases it poses no serious threat to their health. There have been some instance of life threatening brain infections (encephalitis) associated with hand, foot and mouth disease infections caused by one particular viral strain, but these only seem to have occurred in the Asia-Pacific region of the world.
Hand, foot and mouth disease in adults is rare, but again the symptoms can cause severe discomfort. Due to it being so contagious, it is advised that people and the workplace are avoided until the disease has completely cleared up.
Hand, foot and mouth disease is caused by several different viruses from the group called enteroviruses. These can be found in the nose and throat secretions, fluid in blisters and stools of infected people.
Contaminated droplets coughed or sneezed, by an infected person can be breathed in by another person, or contaminate nearby surfaces. Similarly, if an infected person does not wash their hands properly after going to the toilet, they can contaminate food and surfaces they touch.
Outbreaks of hand, foot and mouth disease are more likely in places such as nurseries where groups of children need their nappies changing or to use the potty. If your child attends a nursery, ensure they have a policy of practising good hygiene at all times.
Typical symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease include:
- General feeling of being unwell
- Non-itchy red spots or small fluid-filled sacs on hands and feet. They may also occur on the knees, elbows and groin and can sometimes develop into painful blisters
- Loss of appetite
- Painful mouth blisters
One common complication of hand, foot and mouth disease is dehydration, so it’s important to ensure your little one drinks plenty of fluids.
- Always wash your hands (and your children's hands)
Wash hands thoroughly after going to the toilet or changing a nappy, and before preparing food or eating food. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitiser.
- Avoid close contact with infected people
As hand foot and mouth is highly contagious it is best to avoid close contact with people who are infected with it.
- Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces
Including your child’s toys and dummy if they use one.
- Hygienically clean your laundry
Hot wash any bedding, clothing or towels that may be contaminated with saliva, blister fluid or stools.
Myths and Truths
- Hand, foot and mouth disease is the same as foot and mouth disease
Not true, they’re different. Foot and mouth disease only affects cattle, sheep and pigs. And you cannot catch hand, foot and mouth disease from animals.
- If you’ve had hand, foot and mouth disease once, you can’t catch it again
Your body will be immune to that particular strain of the virus, but it is possible for you to be infected a second time by one of the other strains that causes hand, foot and mouth disease.