Measles vs. Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease: How To Distinguish The Symptoms?

Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) and measles are two viral infections often mistaken as the other. Yes, both are infections and occur with almost similar symptoms. HFMD has rashes that can occur anywhere in the body. But, these rashes and blisters are mainly concentrated on the hand and feet with accompanying mouth ulcers. Measles, on the other hand, have rashes that appear all over the body with symptoms that include conjunctivitis or sore eyes.

Please note that hand, foot, and mouth disease is different from foot-and-mouth disease. The latter affects cows, sheep, and pigs, and is also called hoof-and-mouth disease.

Humans do not infect animals and vice versa, so the term is not synonymous with one another.  

What is hand, foot, and mouth disease?

HMFD is a viral disease that commonly affects children under five years old.

Mom is showing her infant baby's foot, which has bumps and blisters as a result of the baby getting the hand, foot, and mouth disease.

It is caused by viruses that belong to the Enterovirus family, like the unusual strain of coxsackievirus. It may occur in teens and occasionally in adults and is considered very contagious.

📌 In May 2022, India alerted the world of the possible HMFD outbreak that may become a global health issue. Severe outbreaks often affect a large population of Asia.

In temperate countries, the threat of HMFD may happen during the summer and fall seasons.

HMFD symptoms

The incubation period for HMFD is 3 to 5 days, or the time when symptoms begin to show. It will remain infectious when there is still fluid in the blisters, or the scabs are still there.

The symptoms of HMFD are:

  • Flu-like symptoms (fever, sore throat, general feeling of unwell)
  • Loss of appetite or refusing food and drinks
  • Painful mouth sores or blisters inside and outside the mouth
  • Painful swallowing
  • Skin rashes on the palms of the hand and soles of the feet

HMFD rashes can be flat or slightly-raised spots that are not itchy.

Sometimes, blisters with red bases may also form in the area. But, they are not always localized in the hand and foot as these spots could also occur in the buttocks, legs, trunks, and arms.

Treatment for HMFD

There is no specific treatment for HMDF, and home treatment may be enough to relieve its symptoms.

A pediatrician may prescribe over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen to relieve fever. In addition, an oral cream such as Acyclovir or Daktarin may be given to alleviate mouth sores.

Because the mouth sores can get in the way, the child may not eat or drink so much. It puts him at risk for dehydration, which can be worse than the illness itself. So, please encourage your child to take more liquids to keep him hydrated.

Take your kid to the doctor for HMFD if:

  • He is not drinking enough
  • The symptoms do not improve after 10 days
  • The symptoms are severe
  • Your baby is younger than 6 months

What is measles?

A toddler boy is shown with measles on his face and shoulders

Measles is an acute viral respiratory illness that also puts children, pregnant women, and immunocompromised people at high risk. It is a highly contagious and dangerous disease caused by a virus in the Paramyxoviridae family.

The measles outbreak started in the early 1960s and affected millions of families annually thereafter. It was declared eliminated in the US in 2000, although outbreaks still occur yearly.

Vaccination helped curb the disease, but common transmissions still happen in some communities.

The measles vaccine (MMR) is one of the mandatory vaccines that an individual needs when traveling internationally to avoid its transmission.

Measles symptoms

The symptoms of measles could appear 2 to 3 days after infection. It may start with Koplik spots or tiny, white spots inside the mouth.

After 3 to 5 days, skin rash with flat spots will break out. They will appear to have become joined together as they spread all over the body.

The accompanying symptoms of measles are:

  • Fever (more than 104⁰F or 40⁰C)
  • Dry cough
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Conjunctivitis (inflamed eyes)

In severe measles, these serious complications can occur or may even lead to death:

  • Blindness
  • Encephalitis (brain swelling)
  • Severe diarrhea
  • Ear infection
  • Severe respiratory infection (like pneumonia)

Treatment for measles

Prevention is essential in reducing the contagion of measles.

The vaccine is given in two divided shots when the baby is between 12 to 15 months. The second dose is given when the child is around 4 to 6 years old.

If the child is not immunized, a vaccine can be given within three days of exposure to minimize its severity.

Vitamin A may also be given to reduce the infection or antibiotics to manage other complications like ear infection and pneumonia.


Is there a vaccine for hand, foot, and mouth disease?

There is currently no vaccine for HFMD pending the regulation of the Enterovirus vaccine 71.

The EV71 was developed in China in 2015 but is still under stringent study to assure its safety and efficacy.

Why is HMFD not prevalent in adults?

Anyone can get HMFD, but lesser in adults because they have developed immunity against the virus. They also build antibodies after exposure to the virus, making them less susceptible to the disease.

How soon can I get the measles vaccine for my child if we want to travel internationally?

According to the CDC, the measles vaccine is not recommended for infants under 6 months of age.

You can get an early dose for your baby from 6 to eleven months. Follow the recommended schedule and get another dose at 12 to 15 months and the final shot at 4 to 6 years.

Can my child get measles even if vaccinated?

It is possible, but the chances are rare. MMR vaccines are very effective in developing immunity against measles.

Infections can happen if the immune system does not respond well to the vaccine.


Measles and hand, foot, and mouth disease can spread by direct contact or airborne droplets. It is also true for most of the common viral illnesses. The best way of keeping your family protected is by practicing proper hygiene.

Proper handwashing and sanitizer use can reduce the risk of infection. Face masks are a proven shield of protection that became globally enforceable during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic.

Getting vaccinations lessens the susceptibility to many virus and bacteria strains. So, do not let your child miss their scheduled dose or do a catch-up immunization immediately. These vaccines are life-long protection and are every child’s legal right to receive them.

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Ann Marie is a licensed nurse in the Philippines. She experienced handling and assisting deliveries of newborns into the world. She also trained in labor rooms and pediatric wards while in nursing school - helping soon-to-be mothers and little kids in the process. Though not a mother by nature but a mother by heart, Ann Marie loves to take care of her younger cousins as well as nephews and nieces during her free time.

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