Reports of new cases dwindle but memories still fresh
By John Rogers /// News Editor
On day five of the Raft the Deschutes New Student Trip with College Outdoors, two students, a participant and a trip leader, came down with severe fevers. On day six, their fevers abated, only to be replaced by sore throats. One of the trip leaders also noticed sores on his hands but attributed them to “what he thought were blisters from rowing.” On day seven, it was clear that both students were not suffering from the flu or common cold. Sores covered both student’s hands and feet and their sore throats persisted. It was then that “another participant came forward and disclosed that [he] had hand, foot, and mouth disease about two weeks before.”
Upon their return, both students were sent to the Student Health Service, and the Directors at College Outdoors voiced their suspicion that the students were suffering from Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease. The SHS confirmed that suspicion and treated the two students.
According to the Center for Disease Control, HFMD, which most commonly affects young children, is characterized by “fever, painful sores in the mouth and a rash on the hands and feet.”
After the first sick students arrived from their NST, the SHS began seeing an influx of patients with similar symptoms.
Director of Student Health Services Bess Austin attributed the disease’s spread to its timing. Transmitted through saliva, mucus and liquid from the sores, the disease found a perfect breeding ground at the beginning of the school year.
“It was NSO; everyone was coming back from summer vacation, sharing drinks and food,” Austin said.
Outbreaks of HFMD among college students, albeit unusual, are not unheard of. The University of Virginia and University of Wisconsin, Madison both experienced small outbreaks of HFMD in recent years.
Upon seeing the rate of infection, Austin contacted the Multnomah Health Department for advice. They told her not to worry and that “they did not track [HFMD]” due to its inconsequential nature. Although uncomfortable, the disease “isn’t a stepping stone to a serious complication like the flu,” Austin said.
With emergency measures deemed unnecessary, the SHS and the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness sent out an informational email to the student body, describing symptoms and preventative measures. Much of the fear stemmed from the disease’s unfamiliar name and plague-like symptoms.
Although those with the disease never had to fear for their lives, it certainly was not a walk in the park. A student, who asked to remain anonymous, described his experience.
After class on Tuesday, he fell ill with the usual sore throat, headache and fever. Over the next few days, his symptoms evolved. “One day I thought I had the flu, the next day strep throat, the next mono.” By Friday morning, he noticed “blister-like sores on my hands and feet, and finally realized it was HFMD.”
According to Austin, the worst is now over. The rate of infection appears to be on the decline since its climax during the first week of September.
Those who have avoided contracting the disease thus far likely have been exposed, but have the antibodies needed to protect themselves.Austin warned that cases might continue to appear throughout the semester. With an incubation period of “one day before you break out, until up to three weeks after [you] heal up,” it will be difficult to completely eradicate the virus from campus. However, she is unworried; if students maintain basic hygiene practices, the virus won’t have any means of spreading.