Cases of hand, foot and mouth disease are very common at the moment and can be transmitted from kids to adults.

What is hand, foot and mouth disease?

Hand, foot and mouth disease is a common but highly contagious infection in children caused by enteroviruses, including coxsackieviruses. While generally a mild illness, some children will have fever, sore throat and tiredness and blisters which can be uncomfortable. It mainly occurs in children under 10 years of age but can also occur in older children and adults. It is not related to the foot and mouth disease that affects animals.

What are the symptoms?

  • It starts with blisters that begin as small red dots that later become ulcers. Blisters appear inside the cheeks, gums, and on the sides of the tongue, as well as on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. In infants, blisters can sometimes be seen in the nappy area. Blisters usually last for 7 to 10 days.
  • Children can sometimes have a low fever, sore throat, tiredness and feel off colour, and may be off their food for a day or two.
  • Very rarely, enteroviruses can cause other illnesses that affect the heart, brain, lining of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis), lungs, or eyes.

How is it spread?

  • Hand, foot and mouth disease is usually spread by person-to-person contact. The virus is spread from the faeces of an infected person to the mouth of the next person by contaminated hands. It is also spread by secretions from the mouth or respiratory system (often through sneezing and coughing), by direct contact with the fluid from blisters, and via objects or surfaces with the virus on them.
  • It usually takes between three and five days after contact with an infected person before blisters appear. The virus can remain in faeces for several weeks.

Who is at risk?

  • The viruses that cause hand, foot and mouth disease are common and particularly affect children.
  • Hand foot and mouth disease can spread easily and quickly within households, particularly among children.
  • Many adults, including pregnant women, are often exposed to these viruses without symptoms. There is no clear evidence of risk to unborn babies from hand, foot and mouth disease. However, infected mothers (and siblings) can pass the infection onto newborn babies, who rarely can have severe disease.
  • Outbreaks may occur in childcare settings.

How is it prevented?

Good hygiene is the best protection including:

  • Wash hands with soap and water and thoroughly dry them after going to the toilet, before eating, after wiping noses, and after changing nappies or soiled clothing.
  • Avoid sharing cups, eating utensils, items of personal hygiene (for example: towels, washers and toothbrushes), and clothing (especially shoes and socks).
  • Thoroughly wash any soiled clothing and any surfaces that may have been contaminated.
  • Teach children about cough and sneeze etiquette.
    – Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue. Coughing into an elbow is better than coughing into your hands.
    – Dispose of used tissues in the bin straight away.
    – Wash your hands afterwards with soap and water and thoroughly dry them;

How is it treated?

  • Usually no treatment is needed. Paracetamol will relieve fever and discomfort. Do not give children aspirin.
  • Allow blisters to dry out naturally. The blisters should not be deliberately burst because the fluid within them is infectious.
  • Make sure young children are drinking

Further information

For further information please call your local public health unit on 1300 066 055.