With schools and colleges back in session, so too are contagious illnesses such as hand, foot, and mouth disease
(HFMD), which has recently broken out in two New Jersey high schools and a Florida university.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common form of the viral illness HFMD is caused by Coxsackievirus A16, belonging to the Enterovirus genus.
The disease most commonly occurs in children five years and younger, though it can appear in adults, and is transmitted by contact with an infected person via nose and throat secretions, feces, and blister fluid. Infection with HFMD often begins with a fever, sore throat, and reduced appetite, and people may develop painful sores in the back of the mouth and throat within one or two days. As the infection progresses, small red bumps may appear on the palms of hands and bottoms of feet causing feelings of burning and tenderness, sometimes with ulcers or blisters.
Symptoms usually last three to five days, with symptoms in more severe cases lasting a week or more. Rarely, an infection with HFMD can progress into a more serious condition such as meningitis or encephalitis. Individuals can pick up the virus through physical contact with someone with HFMD or by touching contaminated surfaces. There is no medication to treat or vaccine to prevent HFMD.
The Florida State University
(FSU) in Tallahassee reported a recent viral outbreak on its campus that has affected more than a dozen students so far. All FSU students received an alert from the school’s University Health Services, letting students know about the outbreak. The university’s officials have stated that the university is carrying out sanitation protocols for all of its public spaces and campus, including wiping down dorms and fraternity and sorority houses with bleach. In the meantime, FSU has taken additional precautions by cancelling several campus events, including those planned for fraternity rush week.
In addition to the FSU outbreak of HFMD, a spate of recent cases of the infections have appeared in New Jersey high schools in recent weeks, affecting school athletes. In late August, three students on the football team at Pequannock High School became ill with HFMD. To prevent any further spread of the virus, school health officials canceled practices and postponed the football team’s season-opening game. After taking those precautions the school reported no additional cases of the virus. More recently, a second outbreak of HFMD occurred at New Jersey’s Kinnelon High School. These cases also affected three student athletes, but this time they were on the school’s soccer teams. Games and practices for both the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams were postponed and cancelled, and as an added safety measure, the school decided to cancel practices for the football team, as well as reschedule games for both the varsity and junior varsity teams. In both of these outbreaks, the schools responded by cleaning and disinfecting the schools’ gyms, locker rooms, equipment, and fitness areas.
To prevent spreading HFMD from infected to healthy individuals, the CDC recommends:
- Washing hands often with soap and water, especially after changing diapers and using the toilet.
- Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and soiled items, including toys.
- Avoiding close contact such as kissing, hugging, or sharing eating utensils or cups with people with hand, foot, and mouth disease.
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