Hand, foot and mouth disease – you might have heard about this virus before. But what is it and how should it be treated? Le Bonheur Pediatrician Rana Khaznadar, MD, answers some common questions below.

What does it look like?

Hand, foot, and mouth (HFM) disease usually consists of fever with painful sores or small blisters that form in the mouth and on the hands, feet and sometimes on the buttocks and genitals. Both children and adults can get this.

How long does it last?

Once fever and the rash appear, it can last anywhere from two to four days.

Can I do anything to make it go away?

The good news is that this infection resolves on its own and does not require any treatment medications. For mouth discomfort, your doctor may prescribe a mouthwash to alleviate the pain.

How do you get HFM disease?

HFM disease is caused by a virus. The virus travels in body fluids such as nasal discharge, saliva and fluid from the sores or small blisters from an infected individual. The virus is transmitted, or shed, during the first week of illness. After the rash and fever go away, however, patients continue to shed the virus in the stool for a certain period of time.

Should I call my doctor even if this is going to go away on its own?

It depends. This is a relatively straightforward diagnosis that your doctor can make. Your doctor can also answer questions and alleviate any concerns you may have. Most of the time if the illness is mild enough, it can be managed at home with fever reducers/analgesics such as acetaminophen for mouth discomfort. Also, ensuring adequate fluid intake will decrease the likelihood of dehydration. If your child does not seem to be drinking enough fluids and the number of wet diapers or bathroom visits has decreased substantially in the last eight hours or so, you may want to call your doctor to ask questions or to schedule a visit to evaluate your child.

How can I keep HFM disease from spreading?

The best way is hand hygiene. Teach your child to always wash his or her hands with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom. Disinfect shared toys and tabletops. It is best to keep an infected child away from other children for the first week of illness to decrease transmission from saliva or open blisters or skin lesions.

Where can I read more about HFM disease?

healthychildren.org is a great website that includes more information about this disease and other common childhood illnesses.