Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a contagious viral illness most common in infants and young children. However, adults can also develop the illness if exposed to the virus. Symptoms are the same as those in children.

Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) can produce the same symptoms in adults as in children, but adults are more likely than children to be asymptomatic.

This article discusses the symptoms and treatment of HFMD in adults.

This image shows how hand, foot, and mouth disease presents on the hands.Share on Pinterest
This image shows how hand, foot, and mouth disease presents on the hands. Karl_BlaoStock/Shutterstock

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HFMD is generally not serious in adults or children.

The CDC notes that most people recover from HFMD in 7–10 days without medical treatment. However, children under the age of 2 years may stay sick longer.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA) states that most adults do not experience symptoms if they contract HFMD. Those who do will generally have benign symptoms.

Complications that require medical intervention occur very rarely.

Learn more about HFMD.

HFMD symptoms in adults are the same as those in children.

The symptoms can include:

How long does HFMD last in adults?

According to the AADA, most of the signs and symptoms of HFMD clear within 7–10 days.

However, the CDC notes that people can spread the virus for days or weeks after symptoms disappear and if they have had no symptoms at all.

Enteroviruses cause HFMD. According to the CDC, the viruses that most commonly cause the illness include:

  • Coxsackievirus A16: This virus is the most common cause of HFMD in the United States.
  • Coxsackievirus A6: People who contract this virus may experience more severe symptoms.
  • Enterovirus 71 (EV-A71): This virus is the most common cause of HFMD in East and Southeast Asia.

A doctor will diagnose HFMD by performing a physical examination. This exam might involve the doctor:

  • examining the rashes around a person’s mouth, feet, and hands
  • asking the person about their symptoms
  • taking a throat swab or stool sample to check for the presence of the virus

The doctor may also consider the person’s age. Children five years and younger are the most likely to have the disease. A person should tell a doctor if they have been in contact with a child with the virus.

According to the CDC, almost all cases of HFMD clear up within 7–10 days with no medical intervention.

However, a person can treat the symptoms of HFMD at home by:

  • taking over-the-counter pain medicines (acetaminophen or ibuprofen) to help reduce pain and fever
  • drinking plenty of water and other fluids to help prevent dehydration
  • using a numbing mouthwash to alleviate the pain of mouth sores
  • avoiding hot, spicy, or acidic foods

An adult may not need any treatment if they do not have any symptoms of the infection.

If a person has symptoms, these should go away with or without treatment within 7–10 days. Adults may wish to take a few days off work if they have severe symptoms. It is best to avoid touching the eyes, nose, and mouth and disinfect surfaces that the person with the infection may touch.

It is important to note that the virus can pass to others for several days or weeks after symptoms go away.

Preventive steps, including washing the hands frequently and avoiding close contact with others, can help stop the spread of HFMD.

People with no symptoms can also transmit the virus. However, asymptomatic adults will usually not realize they have the infection, so they are likely to continue their lives as normal.

In most cases, the risk of complications from HFMD is low.

The largest risk is dehydration. The CDC also identifies the following rare complications:

People who are pregnant should let a healthcare professional know if they have developed symptoms of HFMD or come in contact with someone with the virus.

A person can take steps to avoid becoming ill. Many of the prevention methods for HFMD are also good for preventing other illnesses, such as the common cold. Measures to reduce the risk of an infection include:

  • washing the hands frequently and thoroughly
  • avoiding close contact with people who have HFMD
  • washing and disinfecting surfaces and high-touch items regularly

Although most adults with HFMD don’t experience symptoms, they may still be contagious and can spread the virus to others.

People can stay contagious for days or weeks after their symptoms go away. People are advised to stay home until the fever has resolved for 24 hours without using fever reducers, and the rash areas are healing and can be covered to prevent exposure.

Therefore, people with HFMD should not go to work and should isolate themselves at home to avoid spreading the disease.

An adult with HFMD may not need to speak with a doctor. However, if they experience fever, mouth sores, or sores on their hands or feet or show signs of dehydration such as dry mouth or a decrease in urine output, they may wish to seek medical advice.

Parents or caregivers of young children who start to show symptoms of HFMD will likely not need to see a doctor if they can control the symptoms at home.

However, children or adults should see a doctor if their symptoms do not improve within ten days or are severe.

People with a weakened immune system should talk with a doctor about HFMD, particularly if their symptoms are severe. People who get HFMD during pregnancy should also make a healthcare professional aware.

A parent or caregiver should talk with a pediatrician if their child shows signs of the infection, particularly if other children at their school or day care center have the illness.

They should also seek medical advice if the child has severe symptoms, is very young, or cannot eat or drink enough fluids.

Although adults can get HFMD, they often experience no symptoms, so they may not realize they have contracted the virus.

Those with symptoms of the disease can expect to fully recover within 7–10 days.

Here are some frequently asked questions about whether adults can get hand, foot, and mouth disease.

Can adults get hand, foot, and mouth disease from a child?

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a contagious illness resulting from various viruses. It is spread through close personal contact, so some adults may get it. However, according to the CDC, it is generally not serious in adults or children.

What is the quarantine period for hand, foot, and mouth?

Most people with HFMD are usually the most contagious during the first week of the illness. Shedding of the virus can last for weeks, however, so quarantine may not be feasible. Being cautious during the first week of the illness is necessary.

Can you get hand, foot, and mouth twice?

A person can experience HFMD more than once.

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a common viral infection. Infants and young children are most susceptible, but can sometimes affect adults and older children.

People can reduce their risk of contracting the virus by avoiding sick people, washing their hands regularly, and refraining from sharing drinks or food with others.

Treatment typically involves managing the symptoms, if any appear. A person can expect to recover in about 7–10 days.