Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD)

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD) is a common, mild viral disease that usually affects infants and children under 5 years old, but can affect adults.  

What are the symptoms?

HFMD normally begins with a fever, sore throat and malaise (overall feeling of being sick). A day or two later, some individuals will develop mouth and/or throat sores and may develop skin blisters, most commonly on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, but sometimes on the groin and buttocks. Such symptoms are more common in children. Most adults will not experience any symptoms, but can carry the virus and spread it to others. Symptoms generally clear up within a few days.

In rare cases, symptoms can be severe, requiring hospitalization, mostly due to the inability to swallow food or drink due to severe blisters.

What causes HFMD and how is it spread?

HFMD is caused by a virus, most commonly the coxsackievirus or enterovirus 71, found in the nose and throat, fluid within blisters, and feces. Individuals infected with the virus can spread it through close personal contact (kissing, sharing saliva), droplets from coughing or sneezing, and contact with feces. The virus survives on surfaces for several hours, so contact with these secretions on such surfaces can also spread the virus.

Infected individuals are most contagious while they are experiencing symptoms, but can spread the disease for days or weeks after symptoms subside.

How is it diagnosed?

A healthcare provider will usually base diagnosis on the fever and blister symptoms. It is possible to confirm diagnosis through testing of fluid from blisters or testing feces, but such testing is only done if symptoms persist in order to rule out other causes.

What is the treatment and what should I do if I get sick with HFMD?

There is no specific treatment. Most healthcare providers will recommend taking an over-the-counter pain reliever or fever-reducer for pain and fever. Individuals may also use mouthwashes or sprays to numb the sores in the mouth and throat.

Stay home until:

  • You are fever-free for 24 hours
  • All blisters have scabbed over or dried

How can you prevent HFMD?

There is no vaccine. The most effective prevention is to wash your hands after being in contact with a person potentially sick with HFMD. Since the virus is most effectively spread through feces, wash hands after using the bathroom.

Avoid close contact (kissing, sharing cups or utensils) with individuals sick with HFMD.  Clean potentially contaminated surfaces with disinfectants effective against enteroviruses, such as cleaners containing bleach. Alternatively, use cleaning

that list “Alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride” as an active ingredient on the label and states that the product kills norovirus and rhinovirus. This includes products such as Lysol All-purpose cleaner, Pine-Sol All-purpose cleaner and Clorox disinfecting spray/wipes.

What do we know about the cases of HFMD at Princeton University?

In the first week of October 2018, a small number of students were diagnosed with HFMD at University Health Services. EHS and UHS are continuing to investigate to identify any common sources.   

What precautions are we taking?

UHS and EHS are closely monitoring the situation and will issue communications to the University community as needed.  If there are more cases, an emergency management team will convene to determine additional measures, in consultation with the local and State health departments.

More Information

Contact Meagan Fitzpatrick ([email protected] or 8-1427) or Robin Izzo ([email protected] or 8-6259)

Additional Resources