An outbreak of Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease has been spreading around Swarthmore’s campus since early November. Due to its contagiousness, the disease has warranted several email notifications, sent out on Nov. 18 and 19 from Swarthmore’s Health and Wellness Center, concerning how to prevent it from spreading, and how to take care of oneself if it is contracted. The November 19 email revealed that approximately five cases of HFMD were reported to the Worth Health Center. Alice Holland, the director of health and wellness services, stated that while the number of new cases has declined since Thanksgiving break, the total number is unknown as it is suspected several students did not report their illness.
The Worth Health Center notified trainers of the HFMD outbreak, who contacted their athletes on November 13, according to Amy Shmoys ’19, a goalkeeper for the women’s soccer team. The entire school received an email five days later from Holland reporting a few identified cases of HFMD, as well as instructions for students to contact the Worth Health Center if they experienced any symptoms. It is unclear why athletes were notified earlier than the rest of the student body.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention website, Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease is a common illness that physically appears as painful sores in the mouth, hands, feet, buttocks, and genitals. Although the disease is known to afflict younger children and infants, Inside Higher Ed reported that hundreds of college students on the east coast have been afflicted by HFMD this fall. Oftentimes, as a result of sores in the mouth, dehydration may occur. A fever is another common symptom. The disease, while not serious, can be spread through body fluids––including mucus, saliva, fluid from the sores, or feces. Close personal contact, or the air around the infected person after he or she coughs or sneezes, can also cause sickness in the uninfected.
One theory circulated by students is that the disease was brought over from a women’s soccer game at Johns Hopkins University, where over 95 cases of HFMD had been documented, according to a publication in JHU’s Hub from October 12. However, Shmoys claims that this rumor is completely false.
“A student at Swarthmore had been diagnosed with Hand, Foot, and Mouth before the women’s soccer team even played Hopkins. I would also like to point out that not a single person on the women’s soccer team contracted [HFMD],” Shmoys said. “The team took the extra precaution to not shower in the locker room at Hopkins and instead drove back to Swarthmore.”
Holland claims that she has no information about how HFMD did come to Swarthmore.
Because of the contagiousness of the disease, the school has taken a few extra precautions to prevent it from spreading.
“After the email to the entire campus about the spread of HFMD, the athletic trainers posted guidelines in the locker room for preventing transmission and symptoms of HFMD,” Shmoys said.
The Matchbox, in particular, has been a point of interest due to its communal use of equipment.
“The virus can live on contaminated surfaces for several days,” Marie Mancini, the director of sports medicine, commented. “Therefore, cleaning and disinfecting all potentially contaminated surfaces with disinfectant cleaners will protect against the spread of HFMD. EVS is aware of the situation on campus. The Matchbox staff, as always, routinely throughout the day cleans and disinfects all equipment in the facility. There are bottles of disinfectant in the Matchbox for all patrons to clean the equipment before and after they use it.”
Some students who contracted HFMD, in order to avoid infecting their classmates, sacrificed school work and academics.
“I don’t know how I got Hand, Foot, and Mouth, but it started the Wednesday after Thanksgiving break,” said a first-year student, who asked to remain anonymous. “It took about five days for the rash on my face to go away, but the blisters on my hands and feet lasted longer. I basically just rested and didn’t go anywhere near my homework. I missed a day of classes, but my professors were very accommodating. I was lucky I had it over break or else I would have had to make up a lot of work. I did report it to the Health Center when they reopened on the Monday after break. I had already gone to the doctor to get medicine, so I just called to let them know, because they had sent out an email to call if you had symptoms.”
For those concerned about contracting the disease, their main priorities should be to maintain hygiene and personal space, which includes washing hands often, not sharing eating utensils, and avoiding close physical contact. Although the disease itself has no known cure, the symptoms are treatable and the virus is rarely permanently harmful.