It typically begins with a fever. The fever is soon followed by a loss of appetite, then a sore throat. This is where the symptoms of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease (HFMD) begin to diverge from those of the common cold or flu. Painful sores will start to appear on the inside of the mouth, and red blister rashes will begin popping up on extremities. And while the disease is most commonly found in children under 10, the highly contagious nature of HFMD has enabled the illness to spread around campus, infecting 15 students to date.
David Vizgan ’21 was dismayed to hear about the recent outbreak because he has seen how quickly illness can spread on such a small campus, and he can’t afford to get sick any more this year.
“I got alarmed immediately because I’ve already been sick twice this semester,” Vizgan said. “I got a stomach flu that was so bad that I had to go home. And I got other flu-like symptoms a few weeks ago, and I had to miss a bunch of class.”
Ben Owen ’21 fell victim to the disease last week and expressed that it has been really challenging to keep up with schoolwork while he tries to recover.
“It sucks,” Owen wrote in an email to The Argus. “I’m really behind on work. Especially with midterms coming up, it’s an inopportune time to get sick. The health center told me the more stressful work I do, the longer I’ll have the disease, so I am doing nothing productive.”
Last summer, Kira Stern ’19 contracted the illness while she was working at a summer camp. Her case was not too severe, and she only contracted a few small blisters on her hands, but Stern explained that the mouth sores were extremely frustrating.
“The worst part of it for me was that eating hurt,” Stern said. “Because any kind of acidic food would be like really painful [to eat].”
According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, the disease is highly contagious. HFMD can be spread through close personal contact, through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes, and through contact with contaminated objects and surfaces.
Vizgan believes that students aren’t being properly cautious or hygienic and are, in turn, failing to prevent the spread of disease. In fact, he finds student behavior to be rather unsanitary and is frustrated that his peers don’t seem to see how their actions impact other people.
“I’m not trying to put anyone on blast, but I’ll go to Usdan and I’ll see people leaving the bathroom without washing their hands,” Vizgan said. “[Or] I’ll go to the gym, and I’ll see someone is sweating from doing deadlift or bench press and doesn’t wipe it off. Or emptying their water bottles into the water fountain without being careful that it’s going into the drain [and not] onto the faucet. [Because] if you’re sick, everyone is going to get sick from that.”
Owen, who is a member of the baseball team and who usually trains in the campus gym every day, has been avoiding Freeman altogether.
“I’ve avoided the gym completely,” Owen explained. “The health center told me that the gym is a Petri dish for HFMD when it gets going around like it is now. I’ve actually avoided campus all together. I don’t want any of my teammates or classmates getting sick because HFMD is more annoying than it is painful. I [took a train] into New York City to relax and get away from everyone.”
But unlike Vizgan, Owen doesn’t believe his peers to be entirely at fault for the spread of the disease and accepts that disease prevention isn’t always a priority for students who are busy and preoccupied in their day-to-day lives.
“Wes is doing a good job,” Owen said. “There isn’t much else you can do besides wash your hands a lot. It’s more on the people with the disease than those who don’t. Having said that, I doubt people are being careful. Life moves fast, and HFMD isn’t at the forefront of people’s agendas.”
Owen found Davison Health Center to be very helpful and responsive when he came to the clinic with the disease.
“The health center was awesome,” he said. “They quickly diagnosed me and gave me the basic meds to help with the sore throat that accompanies the disease.”
But as helpful as Davison might be, antibiotics are still ineffective against the virus, and there is no treatment that can cure the disease.
“Antibiotics are not effective against viruses,” Medical Director of Davison Health Center Thomas McLarney wrote in an email to The Argus. “There are no anti-viral medications that will cure this. There is no vaccination for this. The good news is that our immune system will take care of this with most people feeling better in 1-2 weeks.”
Davison officials hope that in the next couple of weeks, the disease will begin to disappear from campus, and students will once again be able to use the gym without fear of contracting the illness. Vizgan thinks that students will have to be more mindful in order for this to happen. He believes that students should take extra measures to stay sanitary and that those who are infected should make sure they do everything in their power to prevent the spread of the disease.
“It’s just being mindful and being a bit aware of the fact that there are illnesses around and playing a part to make sure that it doesn’t spread,” Vizgan said. “This should be a lesson to kids on campus to just watch out, watch what you do, just be a bit cleaner. And if you’re sick with this, don’t leave your house, just recover. Be considerate. If you’re not going to recover for your own sake, recover for other people’s sake.”
McLarney also gave some advice to students that will help prevent the virus from spreading.
“Hand washing, hand washing, hand washing,” McClarney wrote. “[It’s] one of the best ways to prevent infections disease spread. Use the crook of your elbow [to] cover [your] mouth and nose [when you] cough and sneeze. If you work in a daycare, nursery or school with young children, consider staying home. Avoid body to body contact with people while you have lesions.”
Sasha Linden-Cohen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.