Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is a contagious condition that can cause your hands, feet, and mouth to become sore and often itchy due to the presence of red bumps.

Dots, dots, and more dots. The rash and bumps covering your hands, your feet, and the outside and inside of your mouth aren’t chickenpox, though. You have a case of HFMD.

If you or your little one has HFMD, you may need to stay home for 7–10 days, depending on your symptoms. It takes between 4 and 6 days for symptoms to show after you get HFMD.

Read on to find out what you should expect when it comes to recovering from HFMD and how you can avoid spreading it to others.

HFMD is very contagious. To help prevent the spread of HFMD, it’s important to stay home from school or work while you or your child have symptoms.

Anyone with HFMD needs to feel well, be fever-free for at least 24 hours, and have all HFMD blisters completely healed for isolation to end. For most people, this means avoiding contact with others for at least 7 days.

HFMD is a very common condition caused by a virus. It’s transmitted through spit, poop, respiratory particles, and even surfaces that contain the virus.

Be sure to notify your child’s day care, nursery, or school as soon as possible if they receive a diagnosis of HFMD. People with HFMD need to stay home and away from other people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you wash and sanitize toys following an HFMD diagnosis. Sanitize surfaces in your home, too, especially surfaces that other family members may touch.

You can treat symptoms like fever and itching with over-the-counter (OTC) remedies as needed. It’s also important to drink plenty of fluids and get a lot of rest.

When to call the doctor

Call your doctor or another healthcare professional if a child:

  • has a weakened immune system and symptoms of HFMD
  • is not drinking enough or has become dehydrated
  • has symptoms that do not improve within 10 days
  • is younger than 6 months and has symptoms of HFMD
  • has a fever lasting longer than 3 days
  • is producing less urine than usual
  • has blisters or sores that are taking longer than 10 days to heal, or they look like they’re getting worse
  • has worsening symptoms after 7–10 days
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HFMD is a condition caused by a virus. It can leave a rash or blisters on your hands, feet, and mouth. People with HFMD may also have bumps on their elbows, knees, or buttocks.

HFMD is most common in young children — especially those under age 5 years — who have not built up the same immunity levels as most adults.

Symptoms of HFMD usually begin to develop about 4–6 days after contracting a virus that causes it. They can include:

  • fever
  • sore throat
  • decreased appetite
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • painful red blisters in the mouth
  • red rash on hands and the bottom of feet
  • shedding of nails, most often in children

A fever and sore throat are usually the first signs of HFMD. These symptoms are typically followed within a few days by a rash and bumps that cover the hands, feet, mouth, and buttocks.

It’s extremely rare, but some people may develop symptoms of complications from HFMD. Seek medical attention if you experience changes in your mental status or persistent symptoms such as:

HFMD can be transmitted through:

  • respiratory particles (e.g., coughing, sneezing)
  • fluid from the blisters
  • feces
  • saliva
  • surfaces that have the virus on them

HFMD is very contagious. It can be transmitted to others before you notice symptoms.

HFMD is typically caused by a strain of coxsackievirus, specifically coxsackievirus A16.

However, the coxsackievirus is part of a group of viruses called enteroviruses, and other types of enteroviruses can also cause HFMD.

HFMD will typically go away without treatment in 7–10 days.

Because HFMD is caused by a virus, antibiotics won’t work to cure it. Instead, your doctor may recommend OTC options to help relieve symptoms. These might include:

  • ointments to help relieve itch from the rash
  • acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) to ease headaches or other pain
  • lozenges or syrups to help relieve a sore throat (be mindful that lozenges may be a choking hazard for children and should be used by a child only if advised by a doctor)

Some home remedies may also help reduce common HFMD discomforts, such as:

  • swishing warm salt water in your mouth
  • sucking on ice or other frozen treats like ice pops, ice cream, or sherbet (ice may be another potential choking hazard for children, so exercise caution)
  • drinking cold water or other beverages
  • eating soft, easy-to-swallow foods
  • limiting acidic foods like citrus fruits and soda
  • avoiding hot or spicy foods

HFMD should clear up in about 7–10 days. You’ll want to notify your doctor if symptoms worsen or last longer than 10 days.

The body typically builds up an immunity to most viruses that cause HFMD after having it. Since a number of viruses are responsible for HFMD, though, it’s possible to get it again from a different virus.

People who have or look after children are especially susceptible to reinfection. This is because children have an increased risk of getting HFMD, and they may pass it on to their parents or caregivers.

Very rarely, HFMD may lead to:

  • dehydration (especially if a sore throat is decreasing how much you’re drinking)
  • viral meningitis (inflammation of the fluid and membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord)
  • encephalitis (inflammation of the brain tissue)
  • paralysis (loss of muscle function)
  • myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle)

Can you get hand, foot, and mouth disease twice?

Yes, you can get HFMD twice. Because there are multiple viruses that can cause HFMD, you may develop immunity to one virus but get HFMD again from a different virus.

Is hand, foot, and mouth disease dangerous during pregnancy?

There’s typically no reason to be overly concerned if you get HFMD while pregnant.

You’ll still want to try to avoid exposure to HFMD, though, because if you get HFMD shortly before delivery, there’s a chance it can be transmitted to the baby.

Notify your healthcare professional if you develop HFMD while pregnant so they can closely monitor the situation.

What can you do to avoid getting hand, foot, and mouth disease?

Regular handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of HFMD. Avoiding contact with people who have HFMD is also important to help reduce your chance of contracting a virus that causes it.

HFMD is a common, easily transmitted illness that can leave your hands, feet, and mouth covered in uncomfortable red bumps. If you get HFMD, you’ll need to stay home and avoid contact with others until your symptoms are gone, which can take up to a week.

Washing your hands and any objects that go into the mouth can help reduce the risk of contracting HFMD.

Notify your doctor or another healthcare professional if you believe you or your child has HFMD. They can diagnose, advise, and prescribe medication as needed.