Ask Dr. Marla: Hand, foot and mouth disease

By Dr. Marla Shapiro on March 30, 2015


What is hand, foot and mouth disease and is it preventable?


Hand, foot and mouth disease is a descriptive term that is used to describe a common viral illness. It typically affects children younger than five. It can be quite a distressing disease with rash and sores in the mouth.

As the Centers for Disease Control describes, the disease is caused by a virus. While there are several viruses in the group, the one many are familiar with is the coxsachie virus. Enterovirus can also cause the disease.

Typically the disease presentation can be non-specific with fever, loss of appetite and sore throat.

After two days of fever, we typically see the painful lesions in the mouth. This is then followed by a rash, which, as its name suggests, typically appears on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet (although it can appear elsewhere such as the mouth).

The concern in young children is keeping up with fluid intake and avoiding dehydration due to the painful mouth lesions. Usually complications are not common, but on rare occasions meningitis and encephalitis can occur.

The virus, like so many other viral diseases, is transmitted through secretions such as saliva or nasal mucus, as well as sputum. Infected blister fluid contains the virus and there is also viral excretion in stools. As a result the virus is spread through the air – so-called airborne transmission – from coughing or sneezing as well as contaminated surfaces. Be sure to wash your hands well, particularly when exposed to soiled diapers.

Unlike the measles, there is no vaccine to protect against hand, foot and mouth disease. It is important to wash your hands frequently and for an adequate length of time. Keep surfaces clean as the virus can be transmitted through contaminated surfaces and toys. Don’t share cups, glasses and other utensils.

There is no specific treatment other than using mouthwashes or sprays to help with pain, pain relievers if required (do not use Aspirin or ASA) and a concerted effort to stay hydrated. As always, consult your health care provider.


Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, April 2015.

By Dr. Marla Shapiro| March 30, 2015

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