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 they have exposure to the virus.

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 note that most people, regardless of their age, recover from HFMD in 7–10 days without medical treatment.

The American Academy of Dermatology Association state 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 only very rarely.

When adults do get symptoms of HFMD, they are the same as those in children.

The symptoms can include:

  • sores in the mouth
  • an itchy rash on the hands, feet, or both
  • fever
  • flu-like symptoms

Enterovirus viruses 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 carrying out a physical examination. This examination might involve the doctor:

  • examining the rashes around the 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 aged 5 years and younger are the most likely to have the disease. A person should tell their doctor if they think that they may have had exposure to the virus as a result of contact with a child.

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 fever reducers (acetaminophen or ibuprofen) to help keep the fever down
  • drinking plenty of water and other fluids to help prevent dehydration
  • using a numbing mouthwash to alleviate the pain of mouth sores
  • avoiding hot and spicy 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 important to note that the virus can pass to others for several days or even weeks after the symptoms go away.

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

The virus can also transmit from people who have no symptoms. However, adults who are asymptomatic will usually not realize that 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 identify the following rare complications:

People who are pregnant should let their healthcare provider know if they have developed symptoms of HFMD.

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

An adult with HFMD may not need to speak with their doctor. However, if they experience a fever, mouth sores, and sores on their hands or feet, 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 their doctor if they can control the symptoms at home.

However, children or adults should see a doctor if their symptoms do not improve within 10 days.

People with a weakened immune system should talk to their doctor about HFMD, particularly if their symptoms are severe. People who get HFMD during pregnancy should also make their healthcare provider 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 is unable to eat or drink enough fluids.

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

Those who do have symptoms of the disease can expect to make a full recovery within 7–10 days.

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

A person can reduce their risk of contracting the virus by avoiding people who are sick, 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.