Published: Tuesday 19 December 2017

If you’ve a child under the age of 10, chances are you’ve come across hand, foot and mouth disease. Anyone can get hand, foot and mouth disease but it is most common in young children.

It manifests itself as ulcers in the mouth and spots on hands and feet. Although it can be troublesome it should clear up within 7-10 days.

So what are the symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease?

Any symptoms don’t usually show until 3-5 days after the patient has been infected. These initial symptoms can include:

  • Fever / high temperature of around 38-39C (100.4-102.2F)
  • Coughing
  • Mouth ulcers - these turn into yellow-grey ulcers which are larger. These can cause pain but should disappear within a week.
  • Red spots on the tongue
  • Stomach pain
  • No appetite
  • A sore throat and mouth

After the mouth ulcers appear it is likely you’ll see a rash on the skin, usually on the fingers, hands and soles of the feet. Sometimes these can appear on the buttocks and groin. Like the ulcers, these can also turn grey although they become blisters which can itch or be troublesome. They usually last up to 10 days.

What should I do if I think my child has hand, foot and mouth disease?

First off, stay at home until the patient is feeling better. There’s no way to cure it so you just have to let it run its course and try to ease the discomfort of the symptoms. You can do this by:

  • Avoiding dehydration. Water and milk are good options. If you have a young baby, smaller and more frequent milk feeds (whether breast or bottle) can help.
  • Eating ‘comfort foods’ that are soft and easy to eat.
  • Gargling with warm, salty water which can help with the pain from any mouth ulcers. However, if it’s a small child who may swallow the solution, this is best avoided. You could visit your pharmacist who might be able to recommend an alternative appropriate to the child’s age.
  • Using your regular painkillers like paracetamol to help with the fever and sore throat. Aspirin should not be used for children under 16.
  • In theory children do not need to stay away from nursery or school but you may wish to check to make sure this is ok with them.

Do I need to see a doctor for hand, foot and mouth disease?

Normally there’s no need. A doctor can’t help as hand, foot and mouth disease is a virus and these are not cured with antibiotics. You just need to sit out the 7-10 days and the illness will pass. If you’re not sure whether the illness is hand, foot and mouth disease you may want to call the NHS on their 111 number or your GP.

There are instances when you should get medical advice and these are if the patient:

  • Can’t or won’t drink anything and becomes dehydrated. You can find out more about the symptoms of dehydration here.
  • Has fits, is weak, confused or becomes unconscious
  • Is a baby under 3 months old with a temperature of 38C or above, or is aged 3-6 months and has a temperature of 39C or above.
  • Has skin that is painful, red or swollen and if there’s any discharge of pus.
  • Has symptoms that aren’t better after the 7-10 days.
    Is pregnant and gets infected within a few weeks of their due date. There’s usually no reason to worry about being infected but it could mean the baby has the illness after birth.

How can I prevent the spread of hand, foot and mouth disease?

You can’t necessarily avoid getting hand, foot and mouth disease but you can help to prevent it from spreading. As soon someone is infected, they are infectious themselves and will be until the symptoms disappear. It can be spread by human contact and also where any surfaces are contaminated.

Try to prevent people with the virus sneezing or coughing on others (and get them to use tissues to cover their mouth and nose), and make sure they wash their hands well after using the toilet. In fact, it’s helpful if they wash their hands more often than usual, especially when preparing or eating food.

Don’t let anyone with the disease share things like cutlery, mugs, glasses, towels or clothing, and wash any bedding or clothing that could be contaminated. Keep work surfaces clean with a bleach-based cleaner.

Parent of a young family or about to become one?
Childcare professional such as a nanny, nursery staff, au pair or childminder?
Join us on either our Baby and Child First Aid course or Paediatric First Aid course, both of which take place at venues in Sussex including Brighton and Hove and Angmering, between Worthing and Littlehampton. We've courses throughout 2018.

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