Hand, foot and mouth disease spreads on campus

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Lehigh University has experienced a hand, foot and mouth disease outbreak this semester. While this disease is normally common in small children, due to its extremely contagious characteristics, it has the ability to spread widely across shared spaces. (Photo Illustration by Kate Morrell/B&W Staff)

A recent outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) has spread rapidly around campus in the first month of the 2018-19 academic year.

According to the Lehigh health advisory note on Sept. 11, HFMD is a common viral illness belonging to the enterovirus group that usually affects infants and small children under the age of five but can affect older children and adults as well. Symptoms typically include fever, malaise, a sore throat — which can include sores in the back of the mouth — and blisters on the palms and soles of the feet.

Thomas Novak, the interim director of the Health and Wellness Center, said people can get infected with enteroviruses like HFMD all the time, but they are more prevalent during the summer and fall. He said the office must always be prepared for such outbreaks.

“The Health and Wellness Center is constantly on surveillance for the myriad number of infections that affect our campus,” Novak said.

Because there is no preventative vaccine or treatment for the painful and discomforting symptoms associated with the disease, the Health and Wellness Center prescribes other remedies for those affected.

“Supportive care measures include physical rest and sleep, increasing fluids and over the counter medicines including Tylenol or Advil for pain, sore throat or fever if those symptoms occur,” Novak said.

Novak said in the advisory notice that individuals who have contracted the disease are most contagious during the first week of the illness but can remain contagious even after symptoms go away.

With the recent wave of ill students, Gryphons have made greater efforts to promote clean and safe living environments in the residence halls.

Siddhant Bapat, ’21, said he had to make a few adjustments to handle the spread of HFMD in his residence hall.

“The common areas have been equipped with hand sanitizer dispensers and I have made sure to keep my infected residents quarantined,” Bapat said.

Emma Banker, ’21, said she is trying to consider how the spread of the disease in her hall has impacted her residents.

“HFMD put me in a difficult position as a Gryphon because I know that some Gryphons designated certain showers and sinks for the infected people, but I did not want to alienate the people that had this disease,” Banker said. “In addition, since only a few people were infected, I did not want to inconvenience anyone by limiting the number of things (that) they could touch in the bathroom.”

Banker sent a message to her hall with specific guidelines and tips so those infected would follow the appropriate protocol, while uninfected students would heed her advice. Banker said some of the girls who live in her hall do not wear shower shoes, so she advised them to do so because the shower is one of the easiest places to get infected.

Housing Services placed hand sanitizer in residence hall common rooms and has started cleaning the bathrooms more frequently, which Banker said has helped with mitigating the spread of the disease.

Novak emphasized the importance of proper hygiene in staying healthy during the coming flu season.

“(Being) frequent and persistent (in hygiene) is the key to preventing many illnesses and limiting the spread of them,” Novak said. This not only applies to hand, foot and mouth (disease), but also to the common cold, adenovirus, strep throat, the flu and countless other upper respiratory infections.”

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