Health & Medicine

Wash your hands to help prevent hand-foot-and-mouth disease

Lori Jacob
Lori Jacob

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is a contagious, viral illness that usually affects children 5 years old and younger, but also can affect older children and adults.

The peak time for hand-foot-and-mouth disease is spring to fall, but it can occur at any time throughout the year. This illness is easily spread, resolves within a few days, and a person may get this illness more than once.

The symptoms of hand-foot-and-mouth disease usually present around three to seven days after contact with a person who has the illness. Symptoms begin with fever, which may be as high as 101 degrees, sore throat, decreased appetite, and a general feeling of being unwell. Blisters occur in the mouth one to two days after the fever begins.

Some people will also develop flat red spots on the palms of their hands and soles of their feet, which do not itch but may blister and can be painful when touched. The rash also can occur on other areas of the body, such as the knees, elbows and buttocks.

Altogether the hand-foot-and-mouth disease may last around five-10 days. The peak time to spread the disease is during the first week of the illness, but some people may remain contagious for weeks after the symptoms are gone.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is spread by person-to-person contact with tiny, air droplets that are released into the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or blows their nose near you. It can also be spread through touching a surface that has been infected with the virus or through contact with stool or fluid from blisters of an infected person.

To prevent this illness, it is very important to wash your hands frequently, clean any objects that could be contaminated with the virus, and cover your mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is a virus, which means that antibiotics will not cure it. The only treatment is supportive care to remain comfortable until the virus leaves the body. Drink lots of fluids to prevent dehydration; cold liquids may be more soothing to the mouth and throat. Warm salt-water gargles also will help soothe the pain from the blisters in the mouth and throat. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be used for fever and pain.

If you are not improving after five to seven days or your fever does not resolve, you should contact your primary care provider for further evaluation.

Lori Jacob is a nurse practitioner supervisor for Baptist Health Express Care clinics in the Lexington region.