Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD) is characterized by blister-like bumps and sores on a child’s hands, feet, and in or around their mouth area. If you’re worried that your child may have contracted it from an infected person, correctly identifying the stages of hand, foot, and mouth disease is the first step in properly treating it.

Generally, HFMD does not affect children over the age of ten. Younger children, toddlers, and infants are most at risk of being infected. 

Infection usually occurs at school or daycare because symptoms appear gradually rather than all at once. So, when you notice that your child is sick, there’s a high chance that they have already contaminated their classrooms and spread the virus to their classmates. 

Hand, Foot, And Mouth Disease Explained

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a common, mildly contagious viral infection experienced mainly by young children. While it can be experienced by older kids and adults, they are usually asymptomatic. Read about hands foot and mouth in adults here.

HFMD is often, but not always, caused by coxsackievirus. Coxsackieviruses are part of a group of viruses found in the digestive tract and include other viral strains like poliovirus and hepatitis A. 

Most children who experience symptoms of HFMD will have mild symptoms that can last anywhere from 5 to 10 days after the initial infection. 

Stages Of Hand, Foot, And Mouth Disease

HFMD has two primary stages: early and late, although some symptoms are present during the progression of the infection. Symptoms tend to come in stages rather than all at once. 

Early Stages of HFMD

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is more likely to occur during the fall and summer seasons and has a few tell-tale signs and symptoms to watch out for. The symptoms usually appear 3 to 7 days after the initial contact with an infected person and are usually more common in infants and toddlers. 

The symptoms include low-grade fevers, spots or rashes, and sores in or around the mouth. 

Within 1 to 3 days of infection, HFMD will present in the form of a low-grade fever – usually between 101 and 102 F. 

There may also be small red spots that appear on the gums, tongue, throat, inside of the cheeks, and on other areas of the skin such as the feet and palms. 

Progression of HFMD

Throughout days 4 to 6 of infection, the small spots will turn into blisters. These blisters can cause discomfort when walking or using the hands if they have appeared on the soles or palms. 

If the blisters have formed in the mouth or throat, the lesions can become seriously painful. Once this happens, it becomes increasingly difficult to eat or drink due to the pain.

It’s crucial at this point to monitor food and water intake, as patients are at risk of dehydration if they aren’t consuming enough fluids. Warm liquids like tea may help to ease the pain, just make sure they’re not too hot. 

Similarly, the fever will also need to be monitored. If the fever temperature spikes too high, the patient may experience seizures. This risk for fever-induced seizures is higher in infants and small children.  

Late Stages of HFMD

After day 6 of infection, the patient’s body temperature should normalize and the blisters should begin to heal. 

Patients are usually the most contagious during the first week of the illness, but their saliva and nasal mucus can still be contagious due to the shedding of the virus through bodily fluids. 

The virus can also be found in the stool for up to 8 weeks after the primary infection.

Treatment of Hand, Foot, And Mouth Disease

There’s no antibiotic treatment for HFMD. Instead, patients and caregivers can use symptomatic treatment through over-the-counter medications like pain medications to treat fever and discomfort. 

Most infected people can recover on their own after 7 to 10 days. The chances of a fatal case of HFMD are incredibly low (less than 1%) but most prevalent in children under 3.

How Is HFMD Spread?

There are multiple ways in which the illness is spread. Children are usually exposed to the virus while attending daycare, school, or other group activities.

HFMD can spread through direct contact with blisters of an infected person, or drops of saliva expelled through coughing and sneezing. 

It can also be spread through stool. So parents, caretakers, and daycare workers should be careful when changing diapers or helping children during potty training. 

If an infected person has touched or been in contact with any surfaces, they will also be contaminated and can possibly further the spread of the virus. This includes shared utensils, bedding, towels, or clothing. 

Caretakers should be careful when in contact with an infected person and are advised to wear gloves when handling them and to wash their hands thoroughly afterward. 

How To Prevent Or Reduce The Spread Of Hand, Foot, And Mouth Disease

The spread can be contained by washing your hands often if you are caring for an infected child, disinfecting any surfaces that a patient comes into contact with, and keeping patients away from other people. 

This means keeping sick children home from daycare or school, as well as any extra social activities. 

Clothing and bedding should be washed often and immediately after removing them to prevent cross-contamination with other surfaces. 

If you or your children are experiencing any coughing or sneezing, it’s also important to cover your nose and mouth to avoid spreading the virus through droplets.

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