Hand, foot and mouth disease: what does it consist of?

Young children are more prone to viral infections. This is because their immune system does not have the information necessary to fully protect them. One of these infections is hand, foot, and mouth disease.

This pathology is an infection produced by several viruses belonging to the group of enteroviruses, located in human fecal matter. Studies show that coxsackie viruses A16 and enterovirus 71 are the most common etiological agents, found in up to 70% of cases.

The people most likely to suffer from the disease are those under 5 years of ageHowever, it can also be suffered by adolescents and adults. Hand, foot and mouth disease usually resolves on its own after 7 or 10 days without leaving any type of sequelae.


The infection has an incubation time that can vary between 3 and 6 days before the characteristic symptoms appear. The first symptom that will appear will be a low fever, which is nonspecific and will only indicate the presence of an infection.

The characteristic lesion of this disease are the Painful ulcers located inside the mouth, lips, and throat. They will start as erythematous vesicles that will quickly ulcerate. The appearance of maculopapular lesions on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet is also frequent.

An unusual location is the buttocks and diaper region, however it should not be discounted. They will have a reddish hue and will be painful, so they can agitate the baby. Other symptoms that children with this infection may suffer are the following:

  • Sore throat.
  • General discomfort.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Agitation and irritability.
  • Nasal secretions
  • Muscle aches and flu symptoms.

Crying and irritability are two nonspecific symptoms that, in young children, mislead the diagnosis.

You can also read: Mouth ulcers: everything you need to know

Causes of hand, foot and mouth disease

As already said, the most frequent etiological agents are RNA viruses belonging to the enterovirus family: coxsackie A16 and enterovirus 71. However, since 2008 cases have been reported in European and Asian countries produced by the variety coxsackie A6.

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is most contagious during the first few days of infection, however, the period may extend for a few weeks. All the viruses that cause the pathology can be found in human fecal matter, nasal secretions, saliva, and vesicle fluid.

The infection will occur when children come into direct contact with these contaminated substances. Furthermore, it can also be transmitted by the use of objects or by close contact with colonized adults. It is important to note that the disease is asymptomatic in adults and they transmit it without noticing it.

How is the diagnosis made?

The diagnosis of the pathology is purely clinical, so the specialist should inquire about the presentation of symptoms. Also, this infection is prevalent in daycare centers, which is indicative of outbreaks.

The visualization of the lesions is of utmost importance to differentiate with other pathologies that present with similar symptoms. Thus, the presence of chickenpox, herpangina, erythema multiforme, and recurrent aphthous stomatitis should be ruled out.

Blood and stool tests may also be ordered. Specific antibodies against enteroviruses will be tested in the blood, while in the faeces the etiological agent will be isolated.

Treatment of hand, foot and mouth disease

This is a self-limited infection, which usually goes away on its own after a few days, so no specific medical treatment is necessary. In this sense, the therapy to be followed will consist of relieving symptoms.

Some specialists may recommend the use of mouthwashes with antiseptic properties to treat canker sores. In addition, the use of topical pain relievers can help reduce pain and discomfort.

To finish, also take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. The effect of these drugs will not only help reduce pain and general discomfort, but in turn will reduce the fever presented.

Also read: Canker sores in children: how to treat them?

Tips and home remedies

The intake of cold and refreshing food is one of the most effective measures to relieve symptoms from home. However, citrus, fruit and carbonated drinks should be avoided, since they can have an irritating effect on the oral mucosa.

Among the foods that can relieve pain caused by canker sores, the following stand out:

  • Ice cream and cold desserts.
  • Popsicles or ice chips.
  • Cold water or milk.
  • Soft and easy to chew foods.

On the other hand, the consumption of salty or highly seasoned foods should be avoidedas they can make the pain worse. One of the most widely used home remedies is gargling warm salt water. This mixture works as an antiseptic and pain reliever. Although the pathology in question is caused by a virus, bacterial superinfections could thus be prevented.

It is also essential to ingest an adequate amount of fluids to prevent dehydration. It will always be necessary to go to the specialist when the little ones do not want to drink water or eat, in order to avoid a decompensation.

No specific treatment is necessary for injuries, although steps can be taken to reduce discomfort.

Prevention of hand, foot and mouth disease

At present there is no vaccine that is capable of preventing the appearance of this infection, so the best preventive measure is to maintain good hygiene. In this sense, hand washing is essential for the elimination of the virus.

Caregivers are advised to wash their hands after changing a diaper and after taking children to the bathroom. In this way, the virus will be prevented from infecting the surfaces with which the little ones have contact. It is also advisable to wash their hands before eating and regularly throughout the day.

Constant disinfection of the area where diapers are changed is also a great preventive measure. This family of viruses is sensitive to chlorine, so a solution of household bleach and water will be able to eliminate them.

The same bleach solution can be used to disinfect everyday objects such as toys and places that children hang out.

A pathology with few complications

Hand, foot and mouth disease is a common pathology during the spring, summer and fall. The same does not represent serious risks to the life of those who suffer it, its resolution is fast and does not leave any type of sequelae.

Complications are very rare, however, there are strains of the virus capable of causing neurological conditions, such as viral meningitis. Therefore, it is always important to go to the doctor's office in the presence of any strange symptoms in children.