Can adults get hand, foot and mouth disease? Yes, but kids get it more

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Some people have perceptions of certain diseases that they believe only affect some groups of people. Think about the way some people talk about head lice. While anyone who has dealt with pesky lice knows it can impact people of all ages, there is the general perception that kids are more susceptible. That’s not entirely incorrect. The same is true for other aliments as well, like hand, foot, and mouth disease.

Though hand, food, and mouth disease can impact people of all ages, it is certainly more common in kids. Still, it’s a an illness that can be avoided by both children and adults alike. 

Why is hand, foot, and mouth disease more common in children? 

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a viral illness that causes sores in one’s mouth and a rash that often consists of red bumps or small white blisters across one’s hands, feet, and sometimes other parts of the body. Though it’s more common in children under 5 years, “anyone can get it,” notes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

One reason children get it more often is that coming into contact with fecal matter puts one at risk for the disease, and kids tend to touch poop more than adults do. The disease also spreads on surfaces where the virus is present, and this commonly impacts children as they frequently touch many surfaces and then touch their eyes, nose and mouth. 

Adults, on the other hand, are generally more conscientious about hand washing, and we don’t usually put our fingers in our mouths or noses. 

Can adults get hand, foot, and mouth disease? 

Even still, “adults and adolescents can both get hand-foot-mouth disease,” says Dr. Kellie Kruger, a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics at Mayo Clinic in Arizona. 

Despite occurring less often in adults, hand, foot, and mouth disease is just as contagious, “and transmission is the same between adults and older kids as it is in younger children,” explains Kruger.

In fact, due to many outbreaks of the virus in some parts of the country, Dr. Vikash Oza, director of pediatric dermatology at NYU Langone Health, says more adults have gotten the disease lately than in previous years, “likely reflective of their lack of exposure and hence immunity as children.”

Is hand, foot, and mouth disease less severe in adults? 

In both children and adults, symptoms of hand, foot, and mouth disease frequently include a fever, sore throat and loss of appetite. But adults are less likely to develop the telltale skin rash and blisters that children with the disease develop, likely because of partial immunity from being infected as a child. Adults can still experience related mouth sores, however, “which can be quite severe in adults, particularly the pain associated with oral ulcers,” says Kruger. 

And even when the rash or blisters aren’t as visible in adults, “in my experience, adults still complain of pain or a tingling sensation on their hands and feet, and that can be uncomfortable,” says Oza. 

In both children and adults, targeted medicines and antibiotics aren’t usually needed or recommended to treat hand, foot, and mouth disease. Instead, getting plenty of rest and fluids, avoiding spicy or acidic foods, and taking over-the-counter pain meds like acetaminophen and ibuprofen to lessen the discomfort are all that’s usually needed. Within a week to 10 days, symptoms of the disease generally resolve on their own. 

More: You’re probably washing your hands wrong and don’t even know it, experts say

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