All parents with young children dread the phone call that hand, foot, and mouth disease is going around at daycare. But women expecting a baby who take this call might wonder, is hand, foot, and mouth disease dangerous during pregnancy? While Google searches bring up scary risks like stillbirth or congenital heart defects, medical experts actually aren’t too concerned about pregnant women contracting the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says although large outbreaks of hand, foot, and mouth disease aren’t common in the U.S., it’s still a fairly normal occurrence in infants and children younger than five years. The condition typically causes fever, reduced appetite, and sore throat, though red spots are its signature symptom, which can blister and become painful, in the mouth, on the hands, and on the feet. Marshall Gottesfeld, M.D., OB-GYN and vice chair of Women and Infant Services at Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver, told Romper in an interview that hand, foot, and mouth is not a major concern for most adults.
“It’s pretty common, one of the more common viral infections in children. With adults, they’ve probably already been exposed to it and it’s a more mild illness in general. A lot of people don’t necessarily know they have it. It just doesn’t happen that often in adults,” he explains.
Adults’ symptoms mirror those described for children. “Fever is the most common. You can have lesions that are a little painful around the mouth. It may be hard to swallow. You may have some joint pain, which is common with viral things, and just not feeling well,” says Gottesfeld.
The National Health Service (NHS) says hand, foot, and mouth disease isn’t inherently more dangerous to pregnant women than it is to other people, but as with any sickness, it’s best to avoid it when possible. Their website says this is because, although rare, fever during the first trimester can lead to miscarriage. Contracting the virus shortly before birth can also pass along a mild version to the baby.
“With any virus that may cause a fever, there’s some theoretical increased risk of miscarriage due to the fever, but in general there’s not a whole lot of evidence it’s a concern during pregnancy,” Gottesfeld explains. “If a woman were to get the virus shortly before delivering, she could pass it onto the baby, so the baby could get it shortly after birth.”
Fortunately, no matter the age of the person who catches the hand, foot, and mouth virus, it typically passes without too much trouble. Complications like stillbirth and congenital heart defects for baby pop up during internet searches, but are extremely uncommon, says Gottesfeld.
“Only in rare, rare instances can it become a serious infection for anyone — it’s very uncommon. The vast majority of cases are normal,” he says. “For treatment in pregnancy, you would stay away from ibuprofen, but I would feel comfortable having them take Tylenol for fevers and aches, and have them stay hydrated.”
While the risks may be minimal, adding the discomfort of being sick with hand, foot, and mouth disease on top of being pregnant sounds... undesirable, to say the least. As with any virus, prevention is the best way to keep from getting sick, especially for parents of two or more who may have a young child bringing viruses home from school.
“You should do things like wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially if you’re changing diapers or using the bathroom. Anyone who is sick should wash their hands as well,” Gottesfeld says. “If your kid is touching a lot of things like toys and other surfaces, you’d want to keep those clean and wipe them down. And, avoid any close contact like sharing utensils, kissing and hugging.”