The dreaded hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is on the loose again, affecting children at day cares and schools across the United States.

What is Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease?

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a viral illness caused most commonly by coxsackievirus A16 and is seen most often in infants and children younger than 5 years old. However, it can sometimes occur in older children and adults.

“The illness is typically mild, and nearly all people recover in seven to 10 days without medical treatment,” Georgia’s West Central Health District notes. “HFMD is caused by several different viruses, and it’s possible that people can get the disease multiple times. In rare cases, further complications can occur.”

Signs & Symptoms

While we typically associate hand, foot, and mouth disease with a nasty skin rash, the disease actually begins with a fever, reduced appetite, sore throat, and a feeling of being unwell.

One or two days after the onset of fever, a skin rash with red spots and sometimes blisters may develop on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Rashes may also appear on the knees, elbows, buttocks, or genital area.

Painful sores or blisters may also develop in the mouth, which may cause dehydration if the person is unable to swallow liquids because of the pain.

How It Spreads

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is highly contagious and spreads through:

  • Close personal contact
  • The air (through coughing or sneezing)
  • Contact with contaminated feces (changing diapers of children with HFMD)
  • Contact with contaminated objects and surfaces, including frequently touched surfaces, such as door knobs and hand rails.

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is most contagious during the first week, and an infected person can still be contagious for days or weeks after symptoms go away. Some people, especially adults, may not develop any symptoms, but can still spread the disease to others.

If someone in your family becomes infected with hand, foot, and mouth disease, it’s critical that he or she stay home and avoid close contact with others. Talk with your doctor about when it’s safe to return to work, school, or day care.

3 Simple Ways to Prevent Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease

While there’s no cure for hand, foot, and mouth disease, there are some healthy hygiene practices your family can follow to help prevent it.

Based on CDC recommendations, you can take the following preventive steps to reduce your risk of infection:

  • Wash your hands. Wash often and carefully, especially after using the bathroom, preparing food or drinks, and changing diapers.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Wash surfaces with hot, soapy water, apply a solution made by adding 2 tablespoons of bleach to 4 cups of water, then rinse and dry.
  • Avoid close contact with infected people. Avoid hugging, kissing, or sharing cups or utensils.

HFMDPreventionTips3-Web

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Practice these safety tips to help protect your children from hand, foot, and mouth disease. Consider sharing this information with your day care administrators, teachers, babysitters, and neighbors to help prevent its spread.