Hand, foot and mouth disease is a common, highly contagious viral disease in children 5 or younger. Its top symptom is a rash in the mouth, hands and feet. It is treatable at home, but may need medical intervention if symptoms become severe.

The disease spreads through infected respiratory droplets like sneezing or coughing, infected surfaces and touching someone who has it. It also spreads through infected feces. If a parent changes a diaper and does not wash their hands well enough, it can be carried to other children. Adults can can catch hand, foot and mouth, though it's less common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it's rare, but recreational water, like swimming pools not properly treated with chlorine, can spread the virus if it becomes contaminated with feces of someone infected with hand, foot and mouth.

Symptoms of hand, foot and mouth

The most common symptoms associated with hand, foot and mouth disease show up about three to five days after catching the virus, including:

  • Rash you can see inside the mouth, on the palms of hands and soles of feet
  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sore throat
The rash, flat or slightly raised red spots, can also appear on legs, arms and buttocks. It can sometimes result in blisters. It's important to keep the blisters clean and not touch them, according to the CDC. The mouth sores can blister on the tongue and inside the cheeks. Primary care physicians can typically diagnose hand, foot and mouth by the rash, the child's age and other common symptoms.

Prevention includes hand washing, cleaning and disinfecting, avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands and avoiding contact with someone infected.

How is it treated?

You can treat hand, foot and mouth at home. There is no vaccine against it. For headaches and muscle aches, a child can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Keeping the child hydrated is vital. Because hand, foot and mouth comes with mouth pain and sore throat, getting a child to drink enough to stay hydrated can be difficult. Give a child cold drinks with flavors, but avoid carbonated drinks.

Hand, foot and mouth is not a serious disease, and children typically feel better within seven to 10 days. Some can still attend daycare if it is mild and does not include a fever, but it's important to keep it from spreading.

Arkansas Children's Primary Care and After-Hours Clinic

There are common complications from hand, foot and mouth requiring medical care:

  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy
  • Fever lasting more than three days
  • No improvement after 10 days
  • A child with a weakened immune system is infected
  • A child younger than six months contracts the virus

According to the CDC, extreme, rare cases can result in fingernail and toenail loss, viral (aseptic) meningitis, encephalitis (brain swelling) or paralysis.

Arkansas Children’s provides high-quality care in their primary care services and emergency departments.

Primary care services are available at the following:

Evening and weekend appointments are available at the ACH After-Hours Clinic. The clinic, partnering with several community primary care clinics, sees patients via appointments (preferred) or walk-ins at ACH West Entrance, 901 S. Battery, Little Rock.

  • Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m. to 9:15 p.m.
  • Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 8:15 p.m


New and existing patients can visit our appointment hub for several ways to request an appointment, including online scheduling for many services.

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