Surrounded by the college culture of sharing drinks and living in close quarters, students are falling ill to hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD). Chapman has yet to inform the entire student body, as the illness has affected less than 30 students thus far.
Spread through fluids from the throat, stool, nose and skin blisters of an infected person, HFMD is a virus that causes blisters in the mouth, palms of the hands and soles of the feet. It may also trigger a sore throat, fever and other cold-like symptoms.
Chapman’s athletic department reported an increase in cases of HFMD among student athletes following the first diagnosis of HFMD on Chapman’s campus Aug. 27. An email from Pamela Gibbons, the director of Athletic Training and Sports Medicine, was sent on Sept. 6 only to Chapman athletes and disclosed that “all facilities, equipment and hydration systems (were) sanitized.”
The email contained additional health information on the virus distributed by the Chapman University Student Health Services and the Orange County Health Department. Students were advised that if they experienced any symptoms of HFMD to not attend practices or games and to contact Student Health Services immediately.
When questioned why only athletes received the email regarding the spread of HFMD, Jacqueline Deats, director of Student Health, said that the virus was only clustered around one sports team. Student Health felt there was no need to send out information to the entire student body at that point. She said that if the amount of infected students had risen to a threshold of 30, she would “happily inform the campus.”
“Student Health didn’t want to send out information that would trigger students to panic or be alarmed. (Student Health) could send the idea that HFMD is an epidemic, but this is not the case,” Deats said. “It is just a virus, like the common cold or flu, that is circulating.”
However, students living in close proximity are at risk of obtaining HFMD. Due to its ability to transfer through the fluids of an infected person, the virus can be found on contaminated surfaces – door knobs, light switches and sink faucets – and droplets in the air.
Colleges around the country have faced similar HFMD outbreaks but were more proactive in handling the virus. For example, Mars Hill University experienced 15 confirmed cases of HFMD in 2018. Within the two-week outbreak, the university temporarily replaced all dishware in the dining commons with paper plates and plastic utensils. A cleaning staff frequently disinfected door handles, elevator buttons and other common surfaces. Infected students were informed to stay in their rooms and had their food delivered.
“There is no treatment besides supportive care and traditional hand washing. Students need to wash their hands, avoid those who are sick, cough into your elbow and not share drinks,” Deats said. Although there are no preventative vaccinations for HFMD, Deats advised all students to prepare for flu season. Student Health Services will host free flu shot clinics in the Student Union Oct. 15 and Oct. 16 and at the Rinker Health Sciences campus Oct. 17.