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Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease Spreads on College Campuses

By Savannah Cooper
On December 5, 2018

Although it is a childhood illness, hand, foot, and mouth disease is spreading around college campuses.

This disease is usually associated with babies and small children. Because children are more susceptible to the illness, it mostly spreads throughout child daycare centers and primary schools.

Recently, more cases have been observed among college students. Some schools that have seen this illness this year include Dartmouth College, Marist College, Wesleyan University, Eastern Kentucky University and West Virginia University. Before the start of football season, WVU announced that a number of football players had fallen ill with the sickness.

In spite of it being common in children, adults do have the possibility of contracting the disease because it is very contagious. Dr. Joseph Morello from New Hope Family Practice in Princeton summarizes the disease by stating, “HFMD [hand foot and mouth disease] is a viral illness that affects mainly infants and children but can potentially affect anyone.” explains the most common cause of the disease stems from catching the coaxsackievirus A16. The website states, “The coaxsackievirus belongs to a group of viruses called nonpolio enteroviruses.” Along with the coaxsackievirus, other enteroviruses can cause people to fall ill with hand, foot, and mouth disease. defines an enterovirus as, “A virus that enters the body through the gastrointestinal tract.” The website continues, “Enteroviruses can be found in the respiratory secretions (for example, saliva, sputum, or nasal mucus) and stool of an infected person. Other people may become infected by direct contact with secretions from an infected person or by contact with contaminated surfaces or objects.”

One of the main reasons smaller children are more susceptible to the illness is because they have never been exposed to it before. Once exposed, the body builds immunity, which makes the illness harder to contract. Because many adults have been exposed to old strands of the illness before, large outbreaks are usually not found among young adults and older populations. Medical professionals are blaming a new strand of an enterovirus for the outbreak. Because students have not been exposed to the new strand, they are able to become infected with the illness.

A regular day on a college campus involves many students being in confined spaces. Hundreds of students share spaces such as bathrooms, classrooms and dorm buildings. Also, some objects such as desks, hand rails and doorknobs can come into contact with a copious amount of people before they are thoroughly sanitized. This results in the spread of germs and viruses such as coaxsackievirus.

Morello gives some examples of symptoms. He explains, “High fever, fatigue, rash and skin changes of oral mucosa on the skin of the hands and feet are all symptoms of HFMD.”

He also explains how the treatments of the disease varies from patient to patient by stating, “The treatment is symptomatic with acetaminophen or NSAID’s [nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug] for fever, aches, and pains. Usually, staying hydrated will reduce and resolve symptoms within 1 week. Caretakers and those with HFDM need to keep hands washed and avoid others with the disease.”

Jordan Pendleton and Emily Hendricks, two students from Concord University, express their concerns dealing with the spread of HFMD on college campuses. Hendricks states, “I had seen several different advertisements talking about it spreading, but I didn’t realize it was such a huge problem at the moment. I saw on the ‘Today Show’ that it was becoming a big issue across the country.” Hendricks currently has a niece that has hand, foot, and mouth disease, so she has seen the effects and symptoms firsthand.

Pendleton states, “I will definitely be more cautious about washing my hands and touching everything at school because I know that a lot of people here [at Concord] are either in contact with children or have children.”

Both students explain their priority of staying healthy and well while at school. They agree that washing their hands often and avoiding touching their faces are two tricks they use to help keep illnesses away.

Pendleton also says, “I try to drink lots of water and get plenty of rest to fight illnesses. So far, those strategies have worked for me.”

Although it can be hard to stay healthy while away at school, it is possible. As prescribed by doctors, washing hands is crucial to keeping the body safe. Another tip is simply being aware of the people you are around.

If someone in your friend group becomes ill, make sure to take precautions to stay well. Disinfect dorm rooms regularly and keep a travel-size hand-sanitizer for times when washing hands is not an option. Following these steps will not only lower the chances of getting sick, but it will also prevent diseases from becoming an epidemic.

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