profile picture of Jennifer L.W. Fink
Jennifer L.W. Fink
Registered Nurse

Hand, Foot And Mouth Disease In Babies

You might know this one as Coxsackie — sounds scary, but it’s actually not too terrible. Here’s how to spot hand, foot and mouth disease, and how to make baby feel better.

What is hand, foot and mouth disease in a baby?

Hand, foot and mouth disease is a viral illness that’s most commonly caused by a strain of Coxsackie virus, which is named after Coxsackie, New York, the town where it was first discovered. It’s typically a short-lived illness that doesn’t cause any long-term effects, and it gets its name from its cardinal symptoms — blister-like lesions on the hands and feet and in the mouth.

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

The lesions, of course. But before you notice those, you might find that baby’s cranky and not eating well. That’s because lesions can be uncomfortable and often start in baby’s mouth. A baby with Coxsackie virus may also have a fever or sore throat.

Are there any tests for hand, foot and mouth disease in babies?

Yep! Hand, foot and mouth disease is most commonly diagnosed based on baby’s symptoms, but if there’s uncertainty, your doctor might send a sample of cells from the back of your child’s throat to the lab, where it will be analyzed for the presence of one of the viruses that cause hand, foot and mouth disease. Stool samples can also be tested.

How common is hand, foot and mouth disease in babies?

Very! “These viruses spread quite easily,” says Jeffrey Kahn, MD, director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. Hand, foot and mouth disease is most common in kids under age five.

How did my baby get hand, foot and mouth disease?

As gross as it sounds, hand, foot and mouth disease is typically spread the oral-fecal route. That doesn’t mean kids are eating each other’s poop; it just means that diapers leak, hands don’t get fully washed, or some other less than 100 percent cleanly thing has happened. It can also be spread through saliva and nasal secretions. No wonder it gets around at day care!

What’s the best way to treat hand, foot and mouth disease in babies?

There’s really no “treatment” for hand, foot and mouth disease — it just needs to run its course — so the best thing you can do is keep baby comfortable while she has it. It might hurt her to eat, so offer her plenty of fluids and soft foods. You might also want to give her acetaminophen (Tylenol) to lower her fever and lessen any pain.

What can I do to prevent my baby from getting hand, foot and mouth disease?

Good hygiene is the best prevention. Double-check sanitation procedures at your child’s day care center; care providers should always wash their hands after changing diapers, and toys should be disinfected on a regular basis. You should also wash your child’s hands before meals and snacks.

What do other moms do when their babies have hand, foot and mouth disease?

“My toddler got it again! It’s really tough — 105-degree fevers and sores all over, the worst of which are in her throat, which makes her not want to drink or eat. Dehydration is a big problem with this illness. I’m also afraid of my two-month-old getting it.... The pediatrician says she has my antibodies still, so most likely she won't, but the doc couldn’t promise me and told me to call her right away at any sign of the virus.”

“My two-year-old had the ulcers in his mouth two weeks ago and had the fever for a week. I thought we were over it, but I noticed ulcers on his feet two days ago. Now my 3.5-year-old has it on his hands and feet! Both kids seem a little run-down but not totally miserable.”

“Ugh, my oldest son had it several times as a toddler — each time, I traced it to visiting the same indoor playground. We stopped going, and it’s since closed down, so perhaps they had a cleanliness issue.”

Are there any other resources for hand, foot and mouth disease in babies?

American Academy of Pediatrics’

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Bump expert: Jeffrey Kahn, MD, director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Children’s Medical Center, Dallas