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Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease: A Mother’s Perspective

Categories: Disease Outbreak, General

family photo

By Kara Stephens

Memorial Day weekend last year, I was changing my daughter, Kinsey, when I noticed a blister on her finger and a few red marks near her diaper line and on her knees.  I really didn’t worry too much about it at first, thinking it may have been some sort of mild allergic reaction or bug bites from playing outside all day.  Later that afternoon, she took a drink from her sippy cup and began to cry as she shoved her hands into her mouth, desperately trying to figure out what was causing the pain.  Thinking it was just the budding of new baby teeth I went and got some Orajel from the medicine cabinet. Only when I went to apply it I noticed the pain wasn’t caused by her teeth, but several blisters that had formed on the back of her throat and tongue.   At this moment I knew something was wrong and all of my epidemiology and infectious disease coursework came flooding back to me.  Remembering a case study I had read, I suspected the low-grade fever she had for the last day or two (I innocently thought was due to teething) and the blisters were likely a result of hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD).  That night I saw the number of blisters on her tiny hands multiply as the rash spread to the area around her mouth and legs, and at this point she was refusing to eat or drink anything – making it even more difficult for her to sleep.  As you can imagine after a night trying to soothe our inconsolable toddler, my husband and I were relieved Kinsey’s pediatrician was able to see her the following morning.  I told him Kinsey’s symptoms and he confirmed that she in fact had HFMD and provided us with a few suggestions.  We also learned a few tips along the way.  Since we are currently in HFMD season again, I would like to share these tips and facts with anyone who may find themselves caring for a child with HFMD.

 Severe Cases of HFMD in the U.S. From November 2011 to February 2012, CDC received reports of severe HFMD in Alabama, California, Connecticut, and Nevada. What makes these cases unusual?HFMD is a common viral illness that usually affects infants and young children.The symptoms are usually mild and include fever, mouth sores, and rash. In the U.S., HFMD occurs most often from spring to fall.The new HFMD cases were unusual because: they were caused by coxsackievirus A6.Until recently,coxsackievirus A6 was not commonly associated with HFMD in the U.S.they occurred during winter months,there were more adults than expected,the rash and fever were more severe and more people were hospitalized than with typical HFMDWhy is this information important?CDC continues to receive reports of severe HFMD in the U.S.So far, CDC has identified coxsackievirus A6 in HFMD patients from the Northeast, South, Mid-west, and West regions.No deaths have been reported.  It is likely that coxsackievirus A6 is circulating widely throughout the U.S.  If you suspect that you or someone in your family has severe HFMD, you should contact a healthcare provider. So what is HFMD?

Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD), or any disease for that matter, can sound frightening to any parent.  However, HFMD is actually very common this time of year — that is, from spring to autumn. While anyone can get it, HFMD typically affects infants and children younger than 5 years of age.  Symptoms of HFMD include fever, mouth sores, and rash. 

What were Kinsey’s signs and symptoms?

Well, in retrospective, we knew Kinsey had a low-grade fever about two days before I noticed the blisters on her finger, diaper line, and knees.   She never seemed to be in any real discomfort during this time until later that day when I noticed the sores in her mouth.  That evening it seemed as if the infection shot into overdrive and blisters began rapidly popping up everywhere, including some uncommon places like around her mouth and upper legs.  The good news is she was back to her spunky-self in about 4 days. 

feet rashThe rash is usually on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.  However, like Kinsey’s case and as CDC highlights, the rash can appear in other areas as well, such as the knees, elbows, buttocks, or genital area. 

As for Kinsey’s mouth sores, they looked just like canker sores, only smaller.  If you have ever had a canker sore, you can probably understand how painful it would be to have 15-20 of them on the back of your tongue and throat.  These sores caused Kinsey the most discomfort – making it difficult for her to eat and drink over the next 3-4 days.  Learn more about HFMD signs and symptoms here.      

How did she get such a nasty bug?

HFMD spreads from an infected person to others through:

  • close personal contact, such as kissing or hugging,
  • the air by coughing and sneezing,
  • contact with feces, and 
  • touching objects or surfaces that have the virus on them.

father showing daughter how to wash handsSo how can we prevent our children from getting HFMD?

There is no vaccine to protect against HFMD.  However, you can reduce your risk by:

  • Washing our hands often with soap and water, especially after changing diapers and using the toilet.
  • Disinfecting dirty surfaces and soiled items, including toys.  
  • Avoiding close contact such as kissing, hugging, or sharing eating utensils or cups with people with HFMD.

If you are a parent with multiple children or even if your child goes to daycare or school, you probably know how difficult it can be to keep your child from kissing and hugging their siblings and friends.  Therefore, we were really strict on making sure our daughters didn’t share their utensils and cups, and made sure we all were practicing good hand-washing habits. 

child playing with toysLikewise, if your home is anything like mine, I’m sure you can agree that toys seem to be overly abundant at times – and this was definitely one of those times.  To keep us from having to disinfect a home full of toys every night, we selected a few toys for “free reign”, locked the rest in the playroom, and closed them off entirely for about a week.  We then separated the remaining toys into two batches so our girls would always have something to play with while the other set of toys “took a bath”. We found it easiest to disinfect one batch during nap, and the other at night so there was always a clean set available for them to play with.  I also put a bin out of my oldest daughter’s reach for any toys that we knew Kinsey played with throughout the day to ensure they were disinfected before our oldest touched them.  CDC has specific disinfecting instructions here.   

Is there any treatment for HFMD

From a mother’s perspective, lots of love, infant Tylenol, and warm baths were the best treatment for Kinsey’s rash.  As far as treating her mouth sores, we avoided all salty and acidic foods like crackers and orange juice, used lots of Orajel (the cool cucumber kind), fed her rice crispies after they had been softened in milk, and kept the Pedialyte freezer pops coming.  Kinsey didn’t eat a whole lot the first 2 or 3 days due to the pain, but we knew it was crucial that Kinsey take-in fluids to stay hydrated, so we focused on making sure she ate the Pedialyte freezer pops and gave her lemon flavored sports drink whenever she would take it.  Within 3 or 4 days she was starting to eat more.  We actually ended up freezing some GoGurt into yogurt popsicles which were a big hit.

Kara's daughter KinseyAs you can see (picture right), Kinsey pulled through like a champ!  

What should you do?

Trust your intuition – only you really KNOW your child.   If you believe your child’s health is at risk, contact your health care provider immediately.  Often times all we need is the reassurance we are doing all that we can to soothe our little ones, and for those sleepless nights – a little pat on the back to let us know it will all be over soon! 

For additional information, please visit CDC’s HFMD Web site and feature and listen to the HFMD podcast.

Public Comments

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this blog is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

  1. May 22, 2012 at 8:42 pm ET  -   Michelle

    Great article! Very informative and interesting!

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  2. May 23, 2012 at 7:30 am ET  -   Kim

    great informative article and thank you for the suggestions on the treatment of HFMD…i feel like if either one of my kids ever came down with the disease, i will have a better understanding of how to deal with it. thank you!

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  3. May 23, 2012 at 9:45 am ET  -   Kelly

    This was a very interesting and informative article!

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  4. May 27, 2012 at 9:01 pm ET  -   Judith

    That’s so interesting, especially that they do get sores elsewhere. My 2 year son broke out with this 4 weeks ago (we’re assuming from his dayhome) and now I all of a sudden I’ve broken out in a very, very bad adult version. The adult version is far worse and debilitating than the the child version. My entire body from scalp, ears, neck, face, mouth, body, legs, hands and feet are completely covered. I’m also weak in the joints, have severe headaches, dizziness and it just feels like a really bad flu. I do not wish this on anyone as an adult. It’s terrible, especially when looking after small children. I have a 6 month old as well and we’re just basically waiting for her to start showing symptoms. The positive about all of this, I guess, is that I’m told you generally build up immunity after first exposure. So let’s hope this is the last of it in our home. And now, I’m off to sterilize toys and surfaces as suggested by this article and something I hadn’t even considered.

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  5. May 28, 2012 at 9:04 am ET  -   Ursula

    This was a great way to understand HFMD. Thank you for sharing your story!!
    I will remember Kinsey if this comes up on my boards.
    Advanced Nurse Practitioner Student studying for my boards..

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  6. AUTHOR COMMENT May 29, 2012 at 10:25 am ET  -   Blog Administrator

    @Judith, you are correct. Active immunity results when exposure to a disease organism triggers the immune system to produce antibodies to that disease. Exposure to the disease organism can in fact occur through infection with the disease itself (resulting in natural immunity) as you have mentioned. A great resource for families regarding immunity is CDC’s Web site featuring the “Immune Platoon,” http://www.bam.gov/sub_diseases/diseases_immuneplatoon.html

    Hope you feel better soon.

    -Kara

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  7. May 29, 2012 at 10:54 pm ET  -   Jennifer

    Thanks for sharing. My four year old son was recently infected with HFMD. He initially had fever out of no where. The following day he complaint of sore throat. I thought it was just a regular sore throat but it must be severe. Took him to his pediatrician and there we found out that he had HFMD. It is heartbreaking for me to see my JJ cry everytime he swallows. Antacid gurgle helped and of course ice pops along with Acetaminophen or ibuprofen. He got over it, but it sure was one of the traumatizing event of his early age.

    - Jennifer

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  8. May 30, 2012 at 10:02 am ET  -   Shannon

    Our 1 yr old is currently in the midst of HFMD . Last night was our second sleepless night and we are looking forward to this horrible disease to finally give our little guy a break! (Today is his birthday) Thanks for the go-gurt popsicle idea…we will be trying that this afternoon. Instead of orajel, we have been using the Malox and benedryl oral rinse for some relief…

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  9. June 5, 2012 at 12:56 pm ET  -   Marie

    Thank you so much for your blog. In my six years as a mother I had never heard of HFMD, until last month when it started spreading through my daughters preschool like wild fire. My four year old and two year old got it while my six year old was spared. The doctors were not very informative so I had to go online for information. It is important to more that HFMD can affect each kiddo differently, with bumps showing up in different areas not just hands, feet and mouth. Fortunately kids do bounce back quickly!

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  10. June 5, 2012 at 9:08 pm ET  -   monica

    When my daughter was about a year old, I took her to the pediatrician’s office for a well check appointment. My son was three at the time. Both of my children played with the toys in the pediatrician’s waiting room before we were called into the examination room. Some days later they both had symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease.

    I called the pediatrician’s office to inquire whether they had seen many cases of hand, foot and mouth disease. The receptionist said, “Oh yes.” I then told her my children contracted the virus from their waiting room toys. She then said, “Oh no.” I said, “Oh yes.” She continued to deny this was possible. I explained to her neither of my children had been around other children in the previous days to our appointment and were not in daycare or preschool. She got rather quiet and couldn’t wait to get off the telephone.

    It was a tough but valuable lesson. From that point on, I would never let my children play with waiting room toys, and I always brought toys or books from home. After some months the pediatrician wised up and removed the toys from her waiting room altogether.

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  11. June 7, 2012 at 4:27 am ET  -   Sarah

    Thank you for posting this informative blog! An RN that I work with commented that her child had recently come down with Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. I remembered hearing about the viral illness years prior but needed to reacquaint myself with the diagnosis. Apparently it’s very common in daycares and schools.

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  12. AUTHOR COMMENT June 8, 2012 at 8:36 am ET  -   Blog Administrator

    @Shannon, Thank you for the oral rinse tip. I hope your little guy was still able to enjoy his birthday!

    -Kara

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  13. August 4, 2012 at 1:17 am ET  -   Jessica

    My husband had this back in April, he works for our public school system going in and out of the schools daily for his job. He was running a fever of 101.3 and was too weak to walk and he stayed in bed three days. When we made it to the doctor a few days after he felt better he was told it was coxsackivirus. He had the white spots on his hands and feet too. We were shocked to find out that he at the age of 48 could get something like this which is supposed to be confined to children. So yes adults can get hand, foot, mouth disease too. Be careful!

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  14. August 8, 2012 at 12:22 pm ET  -   Crystal

    Was there anything you put on the blister sores on her diaper area. Those are the ones that are the worse for my little girl. Or would you just leave them be and let them go away on their own?

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  15. August 9, 2012 at 5:15 pm ET  -   Kara

    Hi Crystal, as for the pain we gave her infant’s Tylenol based on the directions provided. We also used Extra Strength Desitin (really thick and doesn’t rub off as easily in the diaper as the other creams) on the blisters around her diaper line to keep the diaper from chaffing the area/causing more damage to the skin.
    When in doubt, always seek advice from your daughter’s pediatrician.
    Hope she gets well soon!
    Kara

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  16. August 13, 2012 at 10:34 am ET  -   Susan

    My son just is 12month and in the past month has gotten hand foot and mouth 2x and he now seems to have it yet again. Is this possible? could it have not really gone away? what am I doing wrong? could this be the sign of something else?

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  17. August 15, 2012 at 4:43 pm ET  -   Camilla

    Thank you!! My son has been inconsolable I was so worried as the docs basically said it wouldnt cause him
    Much discomfort when it really has. I was talking myself into thinking it was something else!! But now reading this, it’s basically made me see it for what is it. HFMD !! And regardless of what docs say he is in pain ( with the ulcers of course) and the screaming IS normal !!! Must be ebbing slowly to the worst of it! Then I’ve the recovery to
    Look forward too ( as does he) and I may get some sleep!! ( until his 3 yr old sister gets it lol)

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  18. August 15, 2012 at 10:18 pm ET  -   stephanie

    my daughter is 18 months old she caught the virus a month ago and it was the worst ever now she has it again i need to kno is there any mouth spray or anything to help the sores she is in soo much pain

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  19. August 18, 2012 at 6:32 am ET  -   Adam.

    My 1 year old developed this condition just over a week ago and recovered really quickly. He developed a rash on his legs and nasty sores below his mouth. The sores cleared in about 4 days. Really quickly. Then my 2 year old daughter developed similar sores on her mouth and also had the rash on her body. The doctor diagnosed hand foot and mouth disease, although she would not open her mouth for us to check for sores. She also cleared up quickly. Now I have developed the condition. Although 10 times worse. I first had a fever 6 days ago for 2 days. Then the next day my feet were extremely itchy. I woke up to a rash all over my foot. Then the sores started on my face too. I also had a few sores in my mouth and a sore throat. Today is day 6 and the sores are clearing on my face. The feet are very nasty looking but improving also. I also have small blisters and red dots on the tips of my fingers. Painful a few days ago, but feeling better now. This is one nasty disease in adults. My children seemed to cope quite well.

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  20. August 20, 2012 at 3:08 pm ET  -   Hailey

    Great article! I’m 16 years old and I currently have HFMD. I know, its very rare for kids my age to get. But last week I had my wisdom teeth removed and I was taking painkillers and an antibiotic. I soon realized that I had dry socket, and I went to the oral surgeon where they packed my holes with a numbing packet. Later that night I began getting the ulcers. I woke up the next day and my lips were HUGE. I got a drink of water and it felt like I had just swallowed a golf ball with cactus spikes on it. However I did not get the rash on my body, which the doc said is possible. Although really strange, the virus had NOTHING to do with my surgery. CRAZY BUT PAINFUL STUFF.

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  21. August 20, 2012 at 3:12 pm ET  -   Hailey

    Oh yeah! And I’ve been using chloroseptic spray to at least help the ulcers in my mouth. A salt water rinse seemed to help a bit. But, the throat sores are WAY more painful and the doc is allowing me to use vikadin so that I’m not completely miserable.

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  22. August 21, 2012 at 7:26 am ET  -   Kara Stephens

    @ Susan: Sorry to hear that. Yes, it is possible for your son to get HFMD again, unfortunately. Just like with colds, your child will develop immunity to the specific virus that made him sick, but there are many viral strains that can cause the disease.

    You can take precautions such as washing your baby’s hands regularly, washing and disinfecting toys and other objects that might have germs on them, and trying to avoid infected children. However, it is impossible to guarantee that your child won’t catch the disease if he’s exposed to an infected person.

    @ Stephanie: You can try orajel or there are some oral numbing sprays (chloriseptic) you can purchase at your local pharmacy. When in doubt, always contact your child’s health care provider.

    -Kara

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  23. August 22, 2012 at 7:43 pm ET  -   Amber

    My 3 year old was just diagnosed today with HFMD, she has a red pimply like rash all over her body, no blisters as of yet, and nothing in her mouth. Her pediatrician said that their is a new strain out that doesn’t follow the normal pattern of the disease! She’s so misreable and itchy! Hoping to get her better soon!

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  24. August 23, 2012 at 5:08 pm ET  -   JEwi

    Any more suggestions of what to put on the sores on skin (not mouth)? Diaper area and all otter places?my 2 and 5 yr old girls have it.aquaphor or calamine?

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  25. September 3, 2012 at 11:06 am ET  -   mary

    This has been the most informative site I have found! Thank you! A few days ago my 4y/o complained of a sore throat. Yesterday he had small red pimply bumps all over his fore arms,hands and diaper area(not feet). Today there were many more and had turned into ulsers. Trip to ER positive for hand foot mouth. The rash can be anywhere and every where!

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  26. September 6, 2012 at 3:37 pm ET  -   jo

    My baby had this the dr told us. I am sad not much i could do for her. Now i got it i have itchy bumps all over hands feet and face the first day i thought it was the flu i was in so much pain being a single mom of a one year old is hard i hope she doesnt get it back.

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  27. September 7, 2012 at 4:47 am ET  -   uma kalita

    thanks dear for yr valuable advice.i’m going through these phase and was worried.that was a relief.thanks again..

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  28. September 18, 2012 at 12:00 am ET  -   Lauren

    My 18 month old son has had this for 6 days now, and it has been AWFUL! We have had 2 completely sleepless nights, much worse than anything from when he was an infant. He has at least 40 blisters per hand! But thankfully not many in his mouth.

    We wanted to find a more natural method to help his poor blistered hands and feet.
    We have been giving him children’s Advil regularly and I have concocted a paste out of strongly brewed and chilled chamomile tea and oat flour. I apply it to his hands and feet once or twice a day just before plunking him in a quick bath with more oat flour in it. It seems to really calm the pain and help with the blisters.

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  29. September 24, 2012 at 9:13 pm ET  -   Jessica

    I’m going through that stage right now. My daughter doesn’t want to eat or drink anything. It’s worrying me & stressing me out too . I’m 7 1/2 months pregnant as well , every time I see her starving herself & I know she’s in pain just hurt me more

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  30. September 25, 2012 at 11:59 am ET  -   Christy

    My 5 year old started this whole mess Friday… woke up with a 102.1 temp crying that her belly hurt. Gave her motrin, figured it was constipation since she has digestive issues. Temp came back down to 99, sent her to school. Well, school calls me a few hours later, she’s in tears again about her belly and her throat is sore, come get her. Take her straight to the ER, temp is 104 there, they say, ‘virus’. It’ll go away. Took her to her PCP, same thing, check for strep, negative.

    Saturday, still mellow, tummy feeling better, sore throat. Temp is controled with motrin. Sunday, layed low, about the same, did another strep test since she’s still running a fever and says she has a sore throat. Negative. Monday am, get up, she’s back to normal (or so I thought) I noticed little bumps on her hands. Thought it was something she got into, didn’t think of it. Then last night in the bath, noticed them on her butt also. Again, thought it was just a rash.

    Get up this am and BAM. Hands are covered, on the sides of her big toes on both feet, butt… covered in little red bumps. The ones on her hands are growing. Her mouth only has 2 ulcers in it, but her lower gums are awfully red.

    Still waiting to get to the PCP again this afternoon, but pretty dang sure it’s HFMD. Called the school, they say all they’ve had was strep. So it’ll be interesting to see what goes on. Just pissed we were IN the office 2 days ago and he didn’t catch it.

    Is there a test for this? Or just visual signs?

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  31. September 27, 2012 at 9:52 am ET  -   gk

    Usefull articel. My baby is 7 months old and have this infection. Its hard to see your little baby like this. ve

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  32. September 28, 2012 at 7:24 pm ET  -   Allison

    My 6 month old son has it for the second time this summer. He was only 3 1/2 months old the first time and now again. He is crying non stop and refuses to eat. The worst part is there isn’t really anything the doctor can do about it. I had it when he did in June and it was awful. So whoever says you only get it once is totally wrong.

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  33. October 4, 2012 at 4:53 pm ET  -   Misti

    My 10 month old has this and it is awful! I was wondering about his pacifier? He takes one a lot and wa wondering what I should do with them? I figure that it has it on them but can’t take them away….. Any suggestions?

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  34. October 6, 2012 at 4:02 pm ET  -   pam

    my grandson had this back in dec of last year and he lost all his finger nails and toe nails. plus the skin on hands and feet peeled off. Looks like it might be back again. now his mother seems to have it. One thing to keep in mind is it remains active in their bowels for a long time after the symptoms are gone.

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  35. October 14, 2012 at 12:38 pm ET  -   Bri

    Wow, I just caught this three days ago and now that I finally wasn’t knocked out by my constant headache and fever, I was able to look up a little information on this pesky virus.

    I’m trying to think of how both my sister and I caught this. She came down from college for Columbus Day weekend, went back on Monday and she got sick I believe it was Wednesday. Come Friday, and I suddenly had a fever and a sore throat! We’re 19 and 23 respectively.

    Does anyone know of any medications for the sores in the throat? Or how about the genitalia cause I have them there too and its very painful.

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  36. October 15, 2012 at 7:42 am ET  -   Shirley Wei

    My 3yrs old son had a hand foot and mouth disease since 8/10/2012 on monday, today is the 8th days already, is the disease consider fully cover? I have my 2nd 1 month old baby, can i put them together already? Is the hand foot and mouth disease will still contagious to other child after a week?

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  37. October 24, 2012 at 8:37 pm ET  -   brittany

    This has help me so much.my daughter kinsley just started developing this bad rash around her mouth.it by each day got worse.she wasnt eating good like sure usually does..i took her to the hospital and that is what they said she had i have been a worry wart since freaking out reading different things because her hands and feet arent bad at all so i was thinking it might be something else but reading this makes me feel alot better i hope my baby gets better soon

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  38. October 25, 2012 at 4:33 am ET  -   Greg Crawford

    Reading the great information above as I go through day 4 of HFMD. As a 36 year old father that watched their 2 year old son go through it 6 months ago, I am appreciating how tuff kids can be. My feet are on fire. Didn’t know adults could get it but the symptoms were obvious in my case. Feeling unwell Monday night, fever and flu like symptoms. Felt much better late Tuesday night but had a sore throat and itchy, burning feet. Noticed red welt like marks and hands and feet and a couple on my bottom lip and nose Wednesday morning that progressively got worse through the day. Went to the doctor today and confirmed HFMD. Sitting here now with feet and hands on fire waiting for a comet to end it all!!! Worst part is not being able to cuddle wife and son so hope it clears up soon. Might need a tea spoon of cement as well!!!

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  39. July 5, 2013 at 1:36 pm ET  -   Cody

    I have had this Disease 2 times now and it’s defiantly not fun, I’ve had it at the age of 12 and now at the age of 17 please keep your kids safe and get them to wash there hands alot and don’t play with any toys at doctor offices or dentist offices.

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