How Long is Hand Foot and Mouth Disease Contagious?

Parents often ask "Is hand foot and mouth disease contagious?" The answer is yes. This article outline how, for how long & who is most vulnerable.


We just figured out the boys both have Hand/Foot/Mouth disease which is no big deal.  The issue is that Chantal’s mom just came home from the hospital after having total knee replacement surgery on Monday.  Should we ALL stay away from seeing her?  If yes, for how long? Or it doesn’t matter because it is not like she was sick?
Shane Valentine

Dr. Greene’s Answer:

Most adults — but not all — have already had Hand Foot and Mouth and are not at risk. There are a few different strains of viruses that cause Hand Foot and Mouth though, so having had the illness once isn’t a guarantee. This leads many parents to ask, “Is hand foot and mouth disease contagious?”

Kids may be contagious just by being in the same room while they have a fever and up to 24 hours after. The saliva can contain the virus for up to 2-3 weeks. The stool can contain the virus for 3-8 weeks or so.

Going to School with Hand Foot and Mouth Disease

I don’t recommend keeping kids out of school beyond 24 hours after fever – because there are enough kids in class with it anyway without the fever, and don’t even know they have it. Keeping kids out doesn’t appreciably change the spread.

But I do recommend keeping kids with Hand Foot and Mouth away from “vulnerable” adults who are not around a lot of kids, if possible:

  • Affected kids should not be in the same room as vulnerable adults if they have a fever, plus 24 hours after the fever is gone.
  • Affected kids should not share the same food or utensils with vulnerable adults while any sores are still present in the mouth or on the body.
  • Vulnerable adults should not change diapers or aid with toileting assistance in affected kids for two months.
  • Everyone should implement good hand-washing all the way around, after using the toilet and before eating or drinking or putting hands in the mouth.

If others in the family do get sick, the first symptoms usually occur 3-5 days after getting the virus – and they become contagious about the same time (unlike chickenpox, where you are contagious 24-48 hours before symptoms).

Medical Review on: July 04, 2015
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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