Hand, foot and mouth disease plagues college campuses

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By Maggie Fox

Hand, foot and mouth disease, notorious for closing down kindergartens and making small children cranky, is hitting college campuses.

College students across the East are hunkered down in dorm rooms, waiting for the unsightly blisters that characterize the infection to clear from the faces and hands, university spokespeople said.

Health officials say the unusual outbreaks are marked by a particularly nasty set of symptoms that include the usual blisters in the mouth and on the hands and feet, but also on the genitals.

“I have never seen this before,” said Dr. Roanna Kessler, medical director of the wellness center at Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus, which has been hit hard by the outbreak. So far, 129 students at the north Baltimore campus have been diagnosed with the illness.

“In previous years we have usually seen it in only a handful of people.”

Early stage signs of the symptoms from hand, foot and moth disease presented in a four-year-old male.
Early stage signs of the symptoms from hand, foot and moth disease presented in a four-year-old male.NBC News

Health officials in several states are testing samples to determine which virus is responsible. Several different viruses, including coxsackie viruses and enteroviruses such as EV-A71, can cause the symptoms of hand, foot and mouth disease. Kessler said at Johns Hopkins, a strain called coxsackie A6 appears to be causing the infections.

Outbreaks of hand, foot and mouth disease are common in the fall, winter and spring, especially at elementary schools and daycare centers. Small children are especially susceptible because they have never been exposed before to the viruses that cause it.