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Hand, foot and mouth disease diagnosis

2-minute read

Hand, foot and mouth disease is usually a mild viral illness that most commonly affects young children under 10. The main symptoms are fever and tiny blisters on the cheeks, gums and sides of the mouth and on the hands and feet. The blisters can also occur in the groin and elsewhere. Children may also have a sore throat.

But in some cases the illness is more severe. It is less common in older children, teenagers, and adults.

See a doctor if you or the person you are caring for:

  • is refusing fluids
  • shows signs of being dehydrated (such as not passing urine as often as usual)
  • is breathing rapidly
  • has symptoms that are getting worse after a few days
  • if they are moving jerkily or can't walk properly
  • if they are extremely drowsy
  • has a high fever for more than 3 days
  • is very irritable
  • has a rash and you’re not sure what it is

Seek urgent medical advice from your doctor or an emergency department if a person has a headache, stiff neck or new back pain. These can be signs of a very serious illness.

If the person you are caring for has a fever and small bright red or purple spots or unexplained bruises that do not turn skin colour when you press on them, they may have meningococcal disease and need urgent medical attention.

Are there tests for hand, foot and mouth disease?

Your doctor can usually diagnose hand, foot and mouth disease based on age, symptoms and the appearance of sores.

Laboratory tests, such as blood tests, are not usually needed.

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Last reviewed: November 2020

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