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Hand-foot-and-mouth disease: Overview

What exactly is hand-foot-and-mouth disease?

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD) is a contagious disease caused by a virus. While one of several viruses can cause it, the signs are usually the same:

  • An itchy rash on the hands, feet, or both

  • Mouth sores

You can catch HFMD from having close contact with a person who has it. You can also catch it when you touch something, such as a toy or doorknob, contaminated with a virus that causes this disease.

A child with hand-foot-and-mouth disease can often experience painful mouth sores that last for 7 to 10 days.

Baby with her mother having her mouth examined at doctor's office

While many people worry that they can get HFMD from a pet or other animal, you cannot. Animals cannot get HFMD.

Some animals get a different disease called foot-and-mouth disease (aka hoof-and-mouth disease). Foot-and-mouth disease only develops in animals that have hooves, such as cows, sheep, and pigs. People cannot get it.

In the United States, HFMD tends to be mild. It usually:

  • Develops in children younger than 5 years old

  • Clears on its own in 7 to 10 days without leaving a trace

When HFMD clears, the person who had it develops an immunity to the virus that caused the disease. Because several viruses can cause HFMD, some people get HFMD again from a different virus.

In the United States, most people get HFMD during the spring, summer, or fall. That’s when the viruses that cause it are most likely to spread. In the tropics, HFMD tends to occur year round.

How long is someone with HFMD contagious?

People who have HFMD tend to be most contagious during the first week that they have the virus.

To prevent spreading the virus to others, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends keeping a child with HFMD home until the:

  • Fever stops

  • Sores heal

The CDC recommends this because children often have close contact with each other, which can spread the virus.

You can see what HFMD sores look like at: Hand-foot-and-mouth disease: Signs & symptoms

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.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Hand-foot-and-mouth disease.” Last updated December 22, 2017. Last accessed May 25, 2018.

Lott JP, Liu K, et al. “Atypical hand-foot-and-mouth disease associated with coxsackievirus A6 infection.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2013;69:736-41.