SEP 16, 2016 12:25 PM PDT

Diagnosed: Hand, Foot, And Mouth Disease Strikes College Students

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
In a rare occurrence, more than a dozen Florida State University students have been diagnosed with hand, foot, and mouth disease – a contagious condition that typically affects young children. What’s the cause and how can we prevent it from spreading?

Why are college kids getting infected with hand, foot, and mouth disease? | Image: wikipedia.org
 
Hand, foot, and mouth disease stems from a viral infection that leads to rashes and sores on the … drumroll, please… hands, feet, and mouth. The disease is most common in young children and can be especially contagious in daycare or school settings. The virus spreads easily through sneezing and coughing.
 
A young child afflicted with hand, foot, and mouth disease will probably not show any symptoms until after 3 to 6 days. After this incubation period, a fever will likely develop, along with the diagnostic sores or blisters. Luckily, the symptoms are short-lived and go away within a week or so.
 
While parents with young children are quite familiar with this disease, it’s a pretty rare appearance in adults. So how did the FSU college kids contract this? Probably through the same means that make young children sick – an enterovirus.
 
Enteroviruses are those that thrive in the intestines. And they particularly love the late summer early fall conditions when the temperature is warm and there’s just enough humidity to spread easily. Furthermore, health officials reviewing the outbreak in FSU cite a recent hurricane, which probably added to the spread of the virus. “Days without electricity, hot, humid conditions make germs very happy,” said William Schaffner, an infectious diseases specialist from Vanderbilt University.
 
In sum, experts note the FSU outbreak is not completely unheard of. "People are definitely exposed to each other at a higher intensity,” said Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease specialist and a senior associate at the University of Pittsburgh, referring to the dorms and close living quarters typical of colleges. “This class of viruses is highly contagious, and if it finds the right person, it's going to cause [illness]," said Adalja.
 

The good news is that infected adults don’t experience any worse symptoms than infected children. The fevers, sore throat, and fatigue, along with the sores, tend to resolve within a week without intervention.
 
As for the university, deep sanitation efforts for the dorms and common areas are already underway. Lesley Sacher, Director of University Health Services at FSU, instructed crews to wipe surfaces in these areas with bleach-based cleaning products. In addition, Sacher reiterated the importance and effectiveness of simple handwashing.
 
Still, there may be more cases of hand, foot, and mouth at FSU before the virus clear out: “We're thinking there might be one more spike, because there's an incubation period of three to five days, so we're going to be very cautious, very watchful,” said Sacher.

Additional sources: CNN, Live Science, CDC
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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