Hand Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD)

By: Osler Health International
Posted on: 4 Jul 2022

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD) is a common contagious viral infection in children characterised by painful sores and ulcers inside or around the mouth and blisters or rashes on the hands, feet, legs or buttocks.

Symptoms of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease may include: 

  • Fever 
  • Sore throat  
  • Painful blisters inside the mouth or on the tongue 
  • A red rash that does not itch but may blister on the palms, soles and buttocks 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability 
  • A general sense of unwellness, or malaise

Fever is usually the first sign of HFMD infection, followed by a sore throat and feeling unwell. A day or two after the onset of fever, painful ulcers may develop in the mouth or throat, followed by a rash on the hands, feet and buttocks within another one to two days.

HFMD causes and risk factors

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease is commonly caused by the coxsackievirus A16. While anyone can be infected with HFMD, children under the age of 5 are most susceptible to the disease.

HFMD may spread from person to person through direct contact with the following substances from an infected person: 

  • Nasal or throat secretions 
  • Saliva 
  • Blister fluids 
  • Stool 
  • Respiratory droplets released into the air during exhalation, e.g. coughing or sneezing

HFMD infections are also common in childcare settings due to frequent diaper changes and the sharing of facilities, toys and books. 

When to see a doctor for HFMD

While Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease is usually mild and resolves on its own within a few days, complications may arise, such as dehydration. HFMD may result in ulcers in the mouth and throat, making it difficult to swallow liquids. Monitor your child and make sure they are getting frequent sips of fluid. If the pain is so intense that your child is unable to swallow at all, see a doctor immediately. Intravenous fluids may be administered if necessary.

See a doctor if your child:  

  • Has a fever that does not subside after three days
  • Has compromised immunity 
  • Has severe symptoms or symptoms that do not improve after ten days 
  • Is younger than six months

HFMD treatment

There is no specific treatment available for Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease, and the illness usually clears up on its own within seven to ten days. However, your doctor may prescribe anaesthetic and pain medications to help relieve discomfort arising from the symptoms. 

Here are some ways you can help to alleviate your child’s HFMD symptoms: 

  • Give them cold treats like ice pops, sorbet and smoothies to soothe the throat. 
  • Avoid salty, spicy and acidic foods and beverages as they might irritate mouth and throat ulcers and cause more pain. 
  • Let them have soft foods like porridge, semolina or rice. 
  • If your child is able to rinse without swallowing, let them rinse their mouth with warm salt water to reduce pain and inflammation in the mouth and throat.

HFMD prevention

Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease can be prevented by taking the following steps: 

  • Wash your hands with soap and water frequently and carefully for at least 20 seconds, especially after changing diapers, using the toilet, blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. 
  • Show your child how to wash their hands properly and ensure that they do it frequently. 
  • Teach your child to cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. 
  • Frequently clean and disinfect high-contact surfaces and shared items like door handles, toys and books. 
  • Avoid having direct contact with someone who’s infected with HFMD. 
  • Avoid sending your child to school until their symptoms have resolved completely. If in doubt, please check with your doctor.

If you have any concerns about your child’s health, Osler Health can help. Speak to our team of dedicated doctors at any of our clinics in Singapore today.

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