Health Matters

Hand, Foot and Mouth: Ugly, Miserable and Contagious

Aug. 8, 2014
Hand, foot and mouth disease, which is caused by the coxsackie virus, often starts with common cold symptoms and a fever. It takes a couple days for the rash to appear, typically in the mouth first and then on the hands and feet. Although hand, foot and mouth disease is most common in young children, adults can catch it, too. This year, the Rochester area is experiencing a slightly worse rash and higher fevers than usual. 
mother washing child's hands
UR Medicine Pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Murray shares what you need to know about this miserable illness:
  • Blame it on a virus. Because the disease is caused by a virus, antibiotics unfortunately do not help.
  • Drink up. Although mouth sores may make it difficult, it’s important to stay hydrated. 
  • Ease the pain. Take pain medications as directed by your physician, which can relieve pain and reduce fever. 
  • Wash up. Whether you have it or you’re caring for someone who does, wash your hands often. It’s a fairly contagious illness that spreads through coughing and sneezing, contact with stool, close personal contact and by touching something—such as a doorknob—that an infected person has touched.
  • Keep your distance. A person with the illness is generally most contagious when showing symptoms and should be isolated as much as possible to prevent the spread.
There is no effective medication for the rash. In fact, in small children, using an anti-itch cream on this rash can lead to an overdose of medication when applied over large areas of their skin. Stick to pain medications and lots of distraction.
We recommend tag-teaming care with another parent, friend or grandparent. The illness can last a week or more, and everyone will need to rest more than normal to help care for a rightfully grumpy child.
Although there is no medication to prescribe, if you are concerned, please call your pediatrician. You can get advice on comfort care and learn how much pain medication is appropriate for your child.
For more information on hand, foot and mouth disease, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s site here
Elizabeth Murray, DO
Elizabeth Murray, D.O., is a pediatric emergency medicine specialist at UR Medicine’s Golisano Children’s Hospital and also serves patients in the hospital’s REACH Clinic at Bivona Child Advocacy Center.