Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Hand, foot and mouth disease

8-minute read

Key facts

  • Hand, foot and mouth disease is a very contagious and common viral illness that mainly affects children under 10 years old.
  • The main symptoms are blisters in and around your child’s mouth, on the palms of their hands and soles of their feet.
  • Your child may also have a fever and a sore throat and mouth.
  • The virus spreads through contact with the fluid inside the blisters, as well as via faeces (poo), coughs and sneezes.
  • Treat symptoms with paracetamol and rest, and by staying hydrated.

What is hand, foot and mouth disease?

Hand, foot and mouth disease is a common viral illness that mainly affects children under 10 years old, but can sometimes affect older children and adults. It is caused by infection with a type of coxsackie virus. Hand, foot and mouth disease is not the same as foot-and-mouth disease, which affects farm animals.

Hand, foot and mouth disease is highly contagious (spreads easily from person to person). It’s especially common in childcare and kindergartens.

What are the symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease?

The symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease usually start 3 to 7 days after you’ve been infected, and typically last for 7 to 10 days.

The most common symptoms are small blisters inside your child’s mouth and on the palms of their hands and soles of their feet, and sometimes in the nappy area in infants. Your child may also have fever, tiredness and sore throat and mouth, making eating or drinking difficult.

In some cases, especially in adults, symptoms may be very mild.

Should I keep my child home from school?

Here’s a list of common childhood illnesses, including hand, foot and mouth disease, and their recommended exclusion periods.

What causes hand, foot and mouth disease?

Hand, foot and mouth disease is caused by infection with a type of coxsackie virus. It’s spread through:

  • person to person contact
  • contact with the faeces (poo) of an infected person
  • contact with fluid from blisters
  • contact with fluids from coughs and sneezes
  • contact with objects or surfaces contaminated with the virus

Blisters typically appear between 3 to 5 days after contact with an infected person. The virus can remain in faeces for several weeks after the person has recovered.

How is hand, foot and mouth disease diagnosed?

Your doctor can usually diagnose hand, foot and mouth disease based on you or your child’s age, symptoms and the appearance of the rash.

You don’t usually need laboratory tests such as blood tests.

How is hand, foot and mouth disease treated?

There is no specific treatment for the coxsackie virus that causes hand, foot and mouth disease. Antibiotics do not work on viruses, and most people can be treated at home.

If your child has hand, foot and mouth disease, you can make them feel more comfortable by treating the symptoms:

  • Paracetamol can ease pain and fever. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice on the right product and dose for your child.
  • Give your child plenty to drink. Sips of water or oral rehydration fluid can stop them becoming dehydrated. Ice blocks or jelly can soothe a sore mouth or throat.
  • Give your child soft foods. Avoid tangy or acidic food that could sting a sore mouth.
  • Encourage your child to rest. Keep them home from day care or school until their blisters dry up.

Allow any blisters to dry out naturally. Don’t try to burst the blisters, as the fluid inside them is infectious.

When should I see my doctor?

Young children are at higher risk of serious infection than older children, teenagers and adults. See your doctor if symptoms are severe, if your child is very young, or if they haven’t improved after a few days.

Signs that you or your child might have a more serious form of hand, foot and mouth disease include:

  • fever (38℃ or above) for 72 hours or more
  • abnormal movements / jerking movements
  • rapid breathing
  • excessive tiredness, drowsiness or lethargy
  • excessive irritability
  • signs of dehydration (such as not passing urine as often as usual)
  • difficulty walking or inability to walk properly

If you or your child have ANY of these signs, see your doctor urgently, even if they have already seen a doctor. If symptoms are getting worse after a few days, or if they have blisters in their mouth making it hard to swallow food or drink, they should also see a doctor.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

What are complications of hand, foot and mouth disease?

Hand, foot and mouth disease rarely causes further complications.

If your child has eczema, it can get worse and might become infected with bacteria.

Hand, foot and mouth disease may cause fingernail and toenail changes about 8 weeks after the infection. Lines may develop in the nail bed, or the nail may shed completely. The nails will grow back without treatment.

In very rare cases, hand, foot and mouth disease can cause serious illnesses that affect your heart, brain, lungs or eyes. See a doctor if symptoms are severe, or don’t improve after a few days.

Can I prevent hand, foot and mouth disease?

The best way to prevent hand, foot and mouth disease from spreading is to practise good hygiene:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly after touching fluids from an infected person.
  • Make sure your children don’t share items such as drinking cups, towels or clothing.
  • Teach your children how to wash their hands, how to cover their mouth when they cough and how to cover their nose and mouth when they sneeze.
  • Thoroughly wash any soiled clothing and any surfaces or toys that may be contaminated.

You should keep children with the infection away from others as much as possible.

Resources and support

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2023


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Hand, foot and mouth disease

Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is caused by a virus (usually from the coxsackie group of enteroviruses, particularly coxsackie virus A16). It causes blisters on the hands and feet, in the mouth and often in the ‘nappy’ area. It is generally a mild disease that lasts 7 to 10 days.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Hand, foot and mouth disease - MyDr.com.au

Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is a common childhood illness causing mouth sores and a skin rash. Read about the symptoms, treatment and how to prevent infection by this viral illness.

Read more on myDr website

Childhood rashes - Hand, foot and mouth disease

Find out what is hand, foot and mouth disease and links to trusted information on its symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Hand foot and mouth disease | Health and wellbeing | Queensland Government

hand, foot, mouth, disease

Read more on Queensland Health website

Hand, foot and mouth disease fact sheet - Fact sheets

Hand, foot and mouth disease is a common viral infection which is easily passed from person to person.

Read more on NSW Health website

Hand, foot and mouth disease: children | Raising Children Network

Hand, foot and mouth disease is a common childhood illness. It causes mouth ulcers and blisters on hands and feet. It’s mostly mild but can be uncomfortable.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

ACD A-Z of Skin - Enteroviral Vesicular Stomatitis

A-Z OF SKIN Enteroviral Vesicular Stomatitis BACK TO A-Z SEARCH What is it? Also known as … Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

Read more on Australasian College of Dermatologists website

Enterovirus 71 (EV71) neurological disease | Health and wellbeing | Queensland Government

Enterovirus 71 (EV71) neurological disease is a rare but serious complication of infection with enterovirus 71, a virus which most commonly causes the mild childhood illness hand, foot and mouth disease.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Enterovirus in children

Enteroviruses cause a range of illnesses which are usually mild. You can help prevent the spread of enterovirus infection by practising good hygiene.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Common childhood rashes

Childhood rashes are common and many disappear without treatment. Learn about symptoms and treatment of childhood rashes, such as eczema, ringworm and impetigo.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Queensland Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.