Is That Contagious? Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

Welcome to the first in a series of regular blogs. Today’s topic is Hand, Foot and Mouth disease (HFMD).

Contagious factor: High

Bub started daycare this year, so I knew to expect a plethora of bugs, rashes, viruses and diseases. First cab off the rank was this little beauty (not to be confused with the common Foot in Mouth disease, normally found in adults).

What is it?

It’s a viral infection that spreads pretty quickly, but the symptoms are usually mild. It’s nothing to do with the Hand, Foot and Mouth disease found in animals so don’t go banishing your pets to the naughty corner. It’s usually found in kids under the age of 10, but adults have been known to get it as well. The name comes from little blisters that crop up around the mouth and on the hands and feet.

How is it spread?

The blisters are the main culprits. The fluid inside is contagious, so once they burst it can spread like wildfire. It’s also spread through coughing, sneezing, snot droplets, saliva and poo – all your main bodily fluid groups. The blisters are infectious until they’ve dried up and crusted over (what a delightful term). However, the virus can hang around in the poo for a few weeks after the blisters have gone, so wash your hands thoroughly after every nappy change.

It’s a tricky one to prevent, because the contagious bit happens a few days before the symptoms appear. It’s no wonder that daycares are breeding grounds for HFMD.


The symptoms can last up to ten days, but it’s rare for them to result in a hospital visit.

  • Blisters or sores around the mouth, inside the mouth, on the hands and feet and in the bottom
  • High temperature
  • Sore throat and loss of appetite (from blisters in the mouth and throat)
  • Tired and cranky

You’ll essentially need to bunker down, rent some movies and wait for it to pass. It’s important to get clearance from your doctor before returning to daycare or school, to stop the risk of spreading it further.

What can I do to treat it?

Not much. Antibiotics won’t do a thing because it’s a viral infection. It’s still a good idea to see the doctor, just so they can diagnose it properly. Paracetamol (Panadol) or ibuprofen (Nurofen) can help with the pain from mouth blisters, but don’t wash it down with orange juice or anything acidic (ouch). It’s important you don’t squeeze or purposely burst the blisters, they need to dry up on their own. Try not to share cutlery, toothbrushes, food, towels and sloppy kisses (difficult around cute babies).

If your baby has a fever higher than 39 degrees, you need to get them back to the doctor. Similarly, if older kids complain of a stiff neck or headaches, you should get them seen to immediately.

Anything else I should know?

  • There’s no cure, treatment or vaccine
  • It’s nothing to do with the Hand, Foot and Mouth disease found in animals
  • There heaps of different strains, so there’s a chance of it recurring
  • It spreads like wildfire, so if your kid gets diagnosed then let your school, kinder or daycare know immediately. They can let other families know what symptoms to look out for
(Disclaimer: The information on this blog should not replace the advice of a medical professional. Please always consult with a physician or other qualified health care provider.)
(Image c/o Donnie Ray Jones, Flickr)

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