Hand, Foot and Mouth in Babies and Children:
Symptoms and Treatment

Hand, foot and mouth disease is common among under-10s. It’s likely that at some point your little one’s nursery or playgroup will have an outbreak of this highly contagious – but not dangerous – disease. Here’s what you need to know about this curiously-named virus.

baby with hand, foot and mouth disease

What is Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease?

Hand, foot and mouth is highly contagious, although fairly mild. It’s named after the sores that develop in the mouth and on the hands and feet – and it has nothing to do with the similarly-named livestock disease.

It’s common for younger children as it spreads easily through nurseries and schools, although older children and adults can also be affected. The spots can be unpleasant for your little one, especially the mouth ulcers, but happily it normally clears up by itself within a week to ten days.

baby with hand, foot and mouth spots
child's foot with hand, foot and mouth spots

What Are The Symptoms of Hand, Foot and Mouth in Babies?

You’ll probably first notice that your little one is generally out of sorts. They may be running a fever, complaining of a tummy ache or a sore throat, have a cough or be off their food.

After one or two days, spots develop on the tongue and inside the mouth, before becoming ulcers which last about a week. Shortly after the ulcers appear, small red spots will develop on the hands and feet. These might be a bit itchy, and they usually last about ten days.

So, to recap, the symptoms of hand, foot and mouth in children to look out for are:

  • A fever
  • Tummy ache or sore throad
  • A cough
  • Off their food
  • Spots on the tongue and inside mouth
  • Small red spots on hands and feet

Do We Need to See the GP?

There’s not much a GP can do for hand, foot and mouth because it’s a virus, so can’t be treated with antibiotics. However, they can confirm your diagnosis and give you advice on looking after your poorly child.

Sometimes a baby or toddler will be reluctant to eat or drink because their mouths are simply too sore, and your GP or nurse can give you some tips on preventing dehydration.

Seek medical help if their skin becomes sore, red and hot, if there’s pus or if the virus hasn’t cleared up after ten days.

How Do We Treat Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease?

Your main role is to give your little patient lots of reassuring cuddles, as the illness simply has to run its course.

Because mouth ulcers can be uncomfortable, persuading your baby or toddler to drink and eat enough is one of the trickiest things. Try soft, cool foods such as yoghurt and make milk feeds little and often for babies. Ice lollies are a good standby for children reluctant to drink.

Painkillers such as Calpol can help (the correct dosages are on the bottle). Keep your child cosy at home until the virus passes.

Prevent It From Spreading

The disease is passed along by contact with infected people and contaminated surfaces, much like a cold. Because it’s caused by a group of viruses, you can catch it more than once and, although many adults have developed the necessary immunity, you may be unlucky and catch it yourself.

If you’re pregnant and come into contact with an infected person (most likely other children), please speak to your doctor or midwife.

Prevent the disease spreading by disinfecting contaminated areas, regularly washing your hands and staying at home until your child is feeling better.