Hand, foot and mouth disease

Hand, foot and mouth disease can be a mild or a very serious illness. It is caused by a virus.

Anyone can get hand, foot and mouth disease, but it is most common in children under 10.

Preschool children tend to get sicker.

If your child has hand, foot and mouth disease, they’ll have painful sores in their mouth and a rash with blisters on their hands and feet.

Human hand, foot and mouth disease is not related to foot and mouth disease in animals.

Hand, foot and mouth disease appears most often in warm weather – usually in the summer or early autumn.


Mild fever is usually the first sign of hand, foot and mouth disease. This starts 3–5 days after your child has been exposed to the disease.

After the fever starts, your child may develop other symptoms, including:

  • painful red blisters on their tongue, mouth, palms of their hands, or soles of their feet
  • loss of appetite
  • a sore throat and mouth
  • a general feeling of weakness or tiredness.

The disease is usually mild and lasts 3–7 days.

It can be confused with:

  • chickenpox (but the chickenpox rash is all over the body)
  • cold sores in a child’s mouth.

How is it spread?

Hand, foot and mouth disease is spread by coughing or sneezing, or by contact with mucus, saliva, blisters or the bowel movements of an infected person.

Children are contagious (‘catching’) for around 7–10 days.

Keep your child home from childcare or school until the fever is gone and their mouth sores have healed.

If your child has only a few blisters on their hands or feet (and none in their mouth) they could attend childcare or school if the blisters can be covered and they’re feeling well.

  • Frequent hand washing helps decrease the chance of becoming infected.
  • Staying away from others who have the disease and not sharing toys during the infection also helps prevent the disease.


The only medicine recommended for hand, foot and mouth disease is paracetamol.

Most blisters disappear without causing problems. In the mouth, however, some may form shallow, painful sores that look similar to cold sores. If your child’s mouth is sore, don’t give them sour, salty or spicy foods.

Make sure they drink plenty of liquids to avoid getting dehydrated.

If you are unsure what to do Call Healthline 0800 611 116  or contact your GP

What to do if you’re pregnant

Hand, foot and mouth disease is rare in healthy adults, so the risk of infection during pregnancy is very low. And if a pregnant woman gets the disease, the risk of complications is also very low.

However, if you catch the virus shortly before you give birth, the infection can be passed on to your baby. Most babies born with hand, foot and mouth disease have only mild symptoms.

In very rare cases it is possible that catching hand, foot and mouth disease during pregnancy may result in miscarriage or could affect your baby’s development. For this reason, if you have contact with hand, foot and mouth disease while you’re pregnant, or if you develop any kind of rash, see your doctor or lead maternity carer – just to be safe.

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