What Causes Hand Foot and Mouth Disease?

Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) is a common viral infection that primarily affects young children. It is caused by several types of enteroviruses, most commonly Coxsackievirus A16 and Enterovirus 71. These viruses are part of the Enterovirus genus, which belongs to the Picornaviridae family.

The transmission of HFMD typically occurs through direct contact with an infected person’s respiratory secretions (such as saliva, nasal discharge, or throat mucus) or through contact with blister fluid or feces of an infected individual. The virus can spread through:

  1. Close contact with infected individuals: HFMD is highly contagious, especially in settings like schools, daycares, and other places where children are in close contact with one another.
  2. Touching contaminated surfaces or objects: The virus can survive on surfaces and objects for a certain period, and touching these contaminated items and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes can lead to infection.
  3. Respiratory droplets: When an infected person coughs or sneezes, they release respiratory droplets that contain the virus, and others can become infected by inhaling these droplets.
  4. Fecal-oral route: Poor hand hygiene after using the toilet can lead to the spread of the virus through contaminated feces.

Once the virus enters the body, it typically incubates for 3 to 7 days before symptoms start to appear. The most common symptoms of hand, foot, and mouth disease include:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Painful sores or blisters in the mouth (especially on the tongue, gums, and inside cheeks)
  • Rash on the hands, feet, and sometimes buttocks
  • Irritability in infants and young children

Most cases of HFMD are mild and self-limiting, with symptoms resolving within 7 to 10 days. Treatment mainly involves managing symptoms, such as fever and pain relief, staying hydrated, and maintaining good hygiene practices to prevent further spread of the virus.

HFMD is different from foot-and-mouth disease, which affects animals like cattle, sheep, and pigs. The two diseases are caused by different viruses and do not cross-infect between animals and humans.