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Hand-foot-and-mouth disease: Who gets and causes

Who gets hand-foot-and-mouth disease?

Infants and children younger than 5 years of age are most likely to get hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD)1. The disease is common in this age group because it takes time for the human body to develop immunity to the viruses that cause HFMD.

Babies have a higher risk of getting hand-foot-and-mouth disease. Around the world, hand-foot-and-mouth disease is considered a common childhood disease.

Group of diverse babies

Older children and adults can get HFMD, but this is less common.

Outbreaks (i.e., when many people in one location suddenly develop the disease) of HMFD occur around the world. These may be more common in Asia. In China, there were nearly 2 million cases of HFMD in 2015. The largest outbreak occurred in Taiwan in 1998, afflicting more than 120,000 people.2

Outbreaks are rare in the United States.

What causes HFMD?

HFMD is a contagious disease. It spreads when someone who has HFMD passes a virus that causes the disease to another person. There are several different viruses that can cause HFMD.

To catch a virus that causes HFMD, you usually need close contact with the infected person. You can get the virus when you:

  • Swallow (or breath in) droplets of infected salvia, mucus, or feces

  • Touch fluid from a blister caused by HFMD

  • Handle a contaminated object, such as a toy

It’s also possible to get HFMD when you swallow water from a swimming pool that has particles of infected feces. This is less common and happens when a pool is maintained poorly.

You cannot catch HFMD from a pet or any other animal.

If you catch HFMD, a board-certified dermatologist can tell you if that’s what you have.

To find out how this disease is diagnosed and treated, go to: Hand-foot-and-mouth disease: Diagnosis & treatment

Getty Images

Belazarian L, Lorenzo ME, et al. “Exanthematous viral diseases.” In: Wolff K, Goldsmith LA, et al. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine (seventh edition). McGraw Hill Medical, New York, 2008: 1867-9.

1,2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Hand-foot-and-mouth disease: Outbreaks.” Last updated December 22, 2017. Last accessed May 24, 2018.