Virus Outbreak Hits University of Illinois Campus


Doctors are dealing with an virus outbreak on the University of Illinois campus.

McKinley Health Center says more than 60 students have come down with hand, foot and mouth disease this semester. They say that’s by far the largest number of cases they’ve seen on campus.

It’s not particularly dangerous, though it is moderately contagious. It can spread through sneezing or coughing, but mostly physical contact with a person or surface. The symptoms usually die down after a week. What’s initially surprising to local doctors is the age of the people getting it.

Each school year Dr. Bob Palinkas says he can usually count on one hand the number of hand, foot and mouth disease cases.

He says, “This is an unusual situation for anybody in the college health environment.”

With more than 60 U of I students catching it in less than two months he’s gotten more familiar with it. Dealing with the virus is more common for pediatrician Neena Tripathy.

“We typically see this in younger kids. Most kids, as they get older, and adults have typically been exposed so it’s not as common,” she says.

The symptoms include fevers, a rash on the hands and feet, and blisters on or in the mouth and throat. Doctors says it’s easy to understand why it’s so contagious among kids, but it’s not beyond reason to see the numbers climb on a college campus.

Tripathy says, “If you look at the college lifestyle, you know, most college students aren’t sleeping well, aren’t eating well, don’t necessarily take the best care of their health. So of course that always make you more prone to picking up any infections.”

She says reversing that behavior is the best way to treat it. People with hand, mouth and foot disease can take pain relievers to deal with the symptoms, but there’s no medicine to cure it.

She says, “Maintaining good health helps prevent any of these illness. Making sure that you’re eating healthy meals, getting plenty of rest, staying well-hydrated, and just getting regular annual check-ups with your physician.”

Palinkas adds, “If someone is particularly contagious at an early phase with a lot of illness severity, we are likely to ask them to avoid all contact with humans and not go to class.”

Palinkas says there are guidelines for children dealing with the virus, but not for adults. With outbreaks like this among young adults he thinks that could be changing.

“It’s possible issues like this might actually result in the development of some firm national guidelines from the CDC.”

There have been several outbreaks of hand, foot and mouth disease since September. Those include multiple high schools in New Jersey. The best advice doctors can give to prevent it is to maintain basic health and hygiene practices.

Hand, foot and mouth disease is fairly contagious and you might not know you have it. Doctors say you could have it before you start to see symptoms. You could also be spreading it to others. They say it can’t hurt to see a doctor if you have any concerns.

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