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What is Hand Foot and Mouth Disease

Updated on December 2, 2016
Cynthia Hoover profile image

Cynthia is a homesteader who grows, harvests, and stores many foods, and prefers natural, homemade remedies for her family.

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What is Hand Foot and Mouth Disease?

Hand Foot and Mouth Disease is caused by highly contagious intestinal viruses. These viruses belong to the picornaviridae family This family of viruses is generally characterized by flat discolored bumps or spots that may even be blisters. These spots or blisters usually pop up on the feet, hands, and mouth.

Occasionally blisters will appear on the genitalia, legs, and buttocks, other areas of the body have been reported in some cases as well such as the arms and chest. Most often an ailment of infants and young children, though it is possible for adults to contract Hand Foot and Mouth Disease, although uncommon.

The most common cause of hand foot and mouth disease, is the Coxsackiesvirus. More specifically the Coxsackies A16 virus. Many other strains of Coxsackiesvirus and enteroviruses are known to cause hand foot and mouth disease as well.

Hand Foot and Mouth Disease, should not be confused with Hoof and Mouth disease. Also referred to as Foot and Mouth disease, Hoof and Mouth disease effects livestock and is almost never contracted by humans.


While I could not find HFMD specifically, this bacteria infection really reflects how awful they make us feel. It just looks painful!
While I could not find HFMD specifically, this bacteria infection really reflects how awful they make us feel. It just looks painful! | Source

The Coxsackievirus

The Coxsackievirus belongs to the family of linear, nonenveloped, positive-sense ssRNA viruses. Picornoviridae and genus Entrovirus, this family of viruses also includes Echovirus and Poliovirus. An entrovirus is among the most important and common human pathogens. Ordinarily these viruses are passed or transmitted by a fecal-oral routine. Coxsackieviruses in particular share many of the same characteristics with polopvirus, oliovirus infections being controlled in much of the world, more attention is being focused on the understanding of the nonpolio enteroviruses like coxsackiesvirus. Coxsackiesvirus is among the leading contributers of aseptic meningitis.

Coxsackies is broke up into two different groups, each responsible for attacking different areas of the body, and having varying effects on the organs they focus on. These Groups are Coxsackies A and Coxsackies B.

Coxsackies A is the group most people are familiar with as it is responsible for the childhood illness Hand Foot and Mouth Disease. Though it is not limited to the hand foot or mouth, it can cause many other symptoms and illnesses. Group A Coxsackies is responsible for infecting the skin and mucus membranes, this can cause herpangina, acute hemorrhagic conjuctivitis on top of HFMD.

While the Group B Coxsackieviruses can infect the heart, pleura, pancreas, and liver. These attacks can cause pleurodynia, myocarditis, pericarditis, and hepatitis. A Coxsackie B infection of the heart is a serious illness, and can lead to pericardial effusion.

Now that I covered the technical aspect of what the virus is, lets move on to a more simplified discussion of Coxsackievirus and Hand Foot and Mouth Disease. Please note, that anything you read is in no way medical advice and I have no medical degrees, I am simply sharing information from research and experience with treating my child, when he suffered from Hand Foot and Mouth Disease.

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Common Symptoms Of Hand Foot And Mouth Disease

The common symptoms include -

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of Appetite
  • General Discomfort
  • Irritability In Infants


Always Have Hand Foot And Mouth Disease, or Coxsackievirus Confirmed by a Doctor

It is always best to have HFMD diagnosed by a professional. As many other dangerous illnesses can present with similar symptoms.
It is always best to have HFMD diagnosed by a professional. As many other dangerous illnesses can present with similar symptoms.

How is Hand Foot And Mouth Disease Diagnosed

Sometimes as a parent, trying to figure out what is wrong with our little ones can be so stressful. Is it a cold, Are they teething, the possibilities are endless! Especially for those of us with children under two who really can not communicate to us what hurts yet. This was the case for me prior to finding the telltale signs of Hand Foot And Mouth Disease on my son.

My son had been teething, since his first tooth at 4 months old. He always had cold like symptoms when he teethed as well as fevers. So as many other parents I am sure, I shrugged off the symptoms to teething and tried to make him as comfortable as possible. This continued and seemed to get worse. All of a sudden he did not want to eat or drink, and had difficulty sleeping. Still having that runny nose and slight fever. I blamed a cold. Thinking 'well he is not sleeping because of drainage, and the stuffiness making it hard to breath'. He was also very fussy and crying. Normally he was not a crier!

On the third day, I just happened to be looking and noticed a flash on his tongue while he was throwing a fit out of pure exhaustion. Oh my, it has to be Hand Foot and Mouth Disease, I told myself. You know how it is. If you are a first time mom, you call the sister (in my case), mother or someone you know that has dealt with these things before. My sister said yes it is Hand Foot and Mouth Disease. So I took him to the doctor.

While there are no cures for Hand Foot and Mouth Disease, it is still important to make a trip to the pediatrician or doctor to be positive your child is infected with the Coxsackievirus A16. It can be possible for other more harmful viruses to present with similar symptoms of Hand Foot and Mouth Disease.

From personal experience - having the pediatrician double check what I was sure was Hand Foot and Mouth Disease, was the fastest visit we have ever had! It is highly and I stress HIGHLY contagious. So they waste no time in getting you in and out of the office, to reduce the risk of contamination to the other patients. As a rule, I try to avoid letting my son play on the toys at the pediatricians office. Imagine all the germs running around on those toys.

Likely the doctor will confirm your suspicions just by looking at the blisters or spots on your child. In our case they were on my sons tongue and a small one on his lip, resembling a fever blister.

While there is no cure for Hand Foot and Mouth Disease, and it is a wait it out sort of illness. A doctor can prescribe a numbing mouthwash to help relieve the paid associated with the blisters inside your child's mouth. Sadly my son was much to young to understand the concept of 'swish and spit'.

Coxsackievirus and Hand Foot And Mouth Disease

Do you think you will be able to tell if your child has Hand Foot And Mouth Disease

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How is Hand Foot And Mouth Disease Spread

The viruses that cause Hand Foot and Mouth Disease, are spread by direct contact with saliva, feces, or mucus. It is very common to have a Hand Foot and Mouth disease outbreak during summer and autumn months in day cares, preschools, and kindergartens. Makes sense, kids are always running around playing. Putting things in their mouth, and never wanting to wash hands or blow their little noses.

You may be asking the same question I did, as a stay at home mom - 'how did my child get the virus?' Let me clarify stay at home mom.I stay at home. I do not run around town on a daily basis. We plan our trips to town or appointments and I often only do grocery shopping once a month. So I can completely narrow down where my son contracted the virus based on the incubation period!

Since the symptoms appear 3-6 days after contact with the virus and I had went nowhere in that period other than Walmart to get groceries. It had been the only place we had been in over 30 days. So either contact with an item we purchased or the buggy he rode in was covered in the germs from someone infected with the virus. Take advantage if those disinfecting wipes they offer for the buggies, and avoid letting them touch any packaging during outbreak season.

Another tip is bleach, you need to keep everything disinfected. All toys, tableware etc. You can use alternatives if you wish, just be sure to disinfect everything your little one touches! I limited the amount of toys he had to play with during this time period. After disinfecting everything, I only let him have a handful of toys until the virus cleared up, Then I gave them all back. It was great because he wasn't spreading the germs. Plus he was super excited and thought he had gotten knew things to play with when I gave them back.

Cuddles are a cure all!

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Just cuddling can help sooth your child when they are feeling sick.
Just cuddling can help sooth your child when they are feeling sick.
Just cuddling can help sooth your child when they are feeling sick. | Source

Treating The Symptoms Of Hand Foot And Mouth Disease

There is no cure for Hand Foot and Mouth Disease, and no available antibiotics that treat it. So any treatment focuses on treating the individual symptoms and making your child as comfortable as possible until it runs it course. You can alternate Motrin and Tylenol for fever and discomfort due to the blisters. Giving your child frozen lollies and cold drinks helps to sooth the mouth and tongue from the pain associated with the blisters. Avoid any highly acidic items though, as these will cause the blisters to hurt even more. I

Try to have fun, in a lot of cases a child with Hand Foot and Mouth Disease will not even notice they are sick. Often times only getting the blisters and never missing a nap or a single play time. If your little one gets the "ick" like mine did then use the time to watch some cartoons and cuddle or read them a book, nothing is as soothing as a parents touch!

Letting a favorite stuffed animal be "sick" to can help keep your child entertained when they are sick.
Letting a favorite stuffed animal be "sick" to can help keep your child entertained when they are sick.

© 2015 Cynthia Hoover

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