Two Florida universities and the University of Illinois have been battling outbreaks of hand, foot, and mouth disease that involve about three dozen cases in the last couple of months.

According to the National Institutes of Health, about 200,000 people in the U.S. get the disease each year, but Dr. Fenyong Liu, an infectious disease expert at UC Berkeley, says a lot more than that carry the viruses associated with the disease.

“This represents a silent epidemic because people don’t know they have the virus, and we don’t know these people have the virus,” Dr. Liu said.

Doctors say the disease is highly contagious, making daycare centers, and now colleges, ideal breeding grounds.

“This fecal or oral transmission is really an issue when you have dining hall and all this share the dorm,” Dr. Liu said.

The disease, caused by the Coxsackievirus, is characterized by fever, malaise, and painful blisters that can ulcerate, making it difficult to eat, talk, do simple tasks, and stand. The virus is most often transmitted via contaminated hands.

Rarely, the disease proves fatal if serious complications occur, such as viral meningitis, paralysis, or swelling of the brain. To give a sense of its potential for infection and its consequences, 1,792,251 cases of this illness were reported in China for 2016, including 172 that resulted in death.

What makes this outbreak noteworthy is the total number of infected students:

“This is the first time significant numbers of cases of hand, foot, and mouth disease have occurred on campuses,” Dr. Robert Palinkas, Director of the University of Illinois’ McKinley Health Center told the Daily Illini. “Cases among college age people are pretty rare.”

The reaction of scholars at the impacted campuses has been mixed.

…”I’m on a college campus where a lot of illnesses go around, so it hasn’t been like something that’s super concerning to me,” said Grace Clayotn, a University of Illinois student.

The news has even caused some to stay away from the university. [Fellow student Maximiliano] Hernandez says he saw people comment on the matter on social media.

“The first thing I saw them post is like forget homecoming, like I’m not , there’s no way I’m going down to U of I, keep that over there,” Clayton said.”The first thing I saw them post is like forget homecoming, like I’m not , there’s no way I’m going down to U of I, keep that over there,” Clayton said.

Meanwhile, Florida State University is focusing on enhancing hygiene in the areas in which transmission is most apt to occur.

…FSU crews are wiping down affected dormitories with bleach and enacting “sanitation protocols for all public spaces on campus,” officials said. All living areas — dorms, fraternity and sorority houses, and others — have been advised to disinfect and provide bottles of hand sanitizers if they don’t already have them.

“Students should take the necessary precautions to sanitize their living and communal spaces including bathrooms,” said Tom Jacobson, director of Environmental Health & Safety.

Some fraternity members contracted the disease, so the university cancelled several events, including rush, on Tuesday night as a precaution to limit exposure for students while various buildings were being cleaned,” FSU spokeswoman Browning Brooks said.

The good news is that most of the sick college kids will still be on their parents’ Obamacare plan.



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