Monday Medical: Hand, foot and mouth disease can spread easily |

Monday Medical: Hand, foot and mouth disease can spread easily

Lindsey Reznicek
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

The name says it all — hand, foot and mouth disease typically develops as a rash on the hands and/or feet and sores in the mouth.

“Hand, foot and mouth disease is a fairly common childhood illness, and one we see most often in summer and fall,” said Dr. Sheila Fountain, a pediatrician in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “While the course of the disease is usually benign, it does spread easily, so it’s important to take steps so that doesn’t happen.”

How it spreads

Hand, foot and mouth disease is a virus spread through touching an infected person or an object the infected person has touched and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth. It can also be spread through contact with feces or fluid from blisters or via respiratory droplets and oral secretions.

“It’s most common in the child care setting because of the frequent number of diaper changes and the fact that little kids often put their hands in their mouths,” Fountain said. “Most older children, adolescents and adults have prior exposure and immunity, so often don’t become ill.”

What it looks like

Initial symptoms usually include fever and poor appetite. A few days after that, mouth sores may develop on the tongue, lips and mucosa, or inside of the mouth. Pink spots or blisters can then form on the hands and feet. In some children, the rash may extend up the leg to the groin area or back.

Some children have abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea proceeding the rash.

Diagnosis, duration and treatment

A doctor can diagnose hand, foot and mouth disease based on the patient’s history and a physical exam. Testing is not typically necessary.

According to Fountain, the incubation period — the time from initial infection to the onset of symptoms — is typically three to five days. A child is contagious for approximately seven days but can shed the virus in the stool for much longer.

“The disease lasts about a week to 10 days, and during that time, children should not attend day care if they have a fever or open sores,” she said. “No specific treatment is necessary, but it’s important to focus on hydration and pain management with ibuprofen or acetaminophen.”

Some patients can develop more severe disease, including more serious lesions, high fever and longer illness. Rare complications could include meningitis and myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart, among others.


Thorough hand washing and disinfecting surfaces frequently helps prevent the spread of illnesses, including hand, foot and mouth disease.

“It’s especially important to wash your hands after changing a diaper, as the virus can shed in stool for up to 10 weeks,” Fountain said. “As soon as children are old enough to understand, teach them how to wash their hands and discourage them from putting their fingers and hands in their mouths.”

Lindsey Reznicek is a communications specialist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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