University sees hand, foot, mouth disease outbreak
Students receive cautionary email; doctors advocate hygiene, cleaning
Many students who live on-Grounds received an ominous e-mail last week informing them that Hand, Foot and Mouth disease is on the prowl at the University. This notification prompted a flurry of confused questions, including “What is Hand, Foot and Mouth disease?” “How do I get it?” “What are the symptoms?” and “Will I be okay?”
Hand, Foot and Mouth disease is actually a fairly common illness, spread by viruses much in the same way as the common cold. Several of its symptoms, too, match those of a cold or flu, including fever, general feeling of discomfort and a sore throat. After one or two days, rashes and sores appear, often on hands and feet and in the back of the mouth. These sores increase the contagiousness of the disease as they can rupture and leak fluid, causing the infection to spread.
Hand, Foot and Mouth disease clears up on its own — in fact, there is no known cure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is very little doctors can do except to prescribe analgesics to help ease the pain the sores create.
This year’s University outbreak has been out of the ordinary, Dr. Meredith Hayden of Student Health said. It is the first outbreak she has seen in her seven years at the University.
“It’s not uncommon that these viruses are in circulation pretty much all the time,” she said. “It’s not anything that’s [particularly] out of the ordinary, it’s just unusual to see it in the student population.”
Estimating the total number of cases within the University is difficult, as the disease is often simply classified as a general rash, Hayden said. But there have been 16 confirmed Hand, Foot and Mouth cases in September, and October has seen 8 more so far, she added.
Whether the outbreak is ending, Hayden said, is hard to tell, but it may be slowing down. “I personally haven’t seen a case in the last couple of weeks,” she said.
This may be because of the school’s attempts to contain the virus. The email said the University is making an extra effort to stop the disease before it spreads further. “Our diligent housekeeping staff has been notified and they have heightened their efforts to disinfect common areas, including our bathrooms,” the email said.
Although the disease has in rare instances been known to cause serious complications, Hayden said the average college population is not generally at serious risk. Inflammation of the brain and meningitis can occur, but are exceedingly rare.
After the disease clears, some patients also note nail loss, although the CDC says that “in the reports reviewed, the nail loss was temporary and the nail grew back without medical treatment.”
The key to stopping the spread of the disease is simply good hygiene. The CDC promotes “washing hands often with soap and water,” “disinfecting dirty surfaces and soiled items” and “avoiding close contact such as kissing, hugging, or sharing eating utensils or cups with people with hand, foot, and mouth disease.” Especially now that cold and flu season is in full swing, it should be everyone’s responsibility to prevent the spread of the disease within the University.