Johns Hopkins University sees outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease

The Johns Hopkins University is dealing with an outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease that has sickened at least 129 people at its Homewood campus in North Baltimore.

University officials have been warning students and faculty about the highly contagious disease, which has no specific treatment. The spread of the disease can be prevented through hand washing and other efforts.

The disease is caused by a group of viruses that are also responsible for polio. People who contract it can develop fever, sore throat, rash on the feet and palms of the hand, and sores in the mouth and throat. Symptoms usually only last a few days.

The rash can turn into painful blisters and some students have developed the blisters all over their face or on their fingers causing them to lose nails, said Dr. Roanna Kessler, the director of the Student Health and Wellness Center on the Hopkins Homewood campus.

Some students with the disease have had to miss classes, she said.

University officials have no way of knowing where the outbreak originated and they have not pinpointed any commonalities among those infected. Specimens are being submitted to the state laboratory for testing.

“It was really widespread,” Kessler said. “It was in all the resident halls and off campus. It was hard to target because it was so widespread and affected different parts of campus.”

People can contract the disease from close contact with someone who is infected, such as hugging, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can also be spread through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes; by contact with feces, such as changing diapers; and contact with contaminated objects and surfaces, like touching a doorknob.

Some people can show no symptoms but still can spread the disease.

University officials have been warning people about the outbreak, including posting lawn signs on the major quads on campus and displaying flyers around campus last week, spokesman Dennis O’Shea said in an email.

They also sent out two broadcast messages and put information on the university’s online news site.

Facility crews have been doing extra cleaning in affected areas, such as residence halls, and giving out hand sanitizer and wipes.

Dr. Lee Fireman, a pediatrician at the MedStar Franklin Square Family Health Center, said he has seen one or two cases a week of the disease, which normally affects children but can be contracted by adults as well.

He said it is not uncommon for the disease to occur around the warm summer months. While the disease can cause a lot of discomfort, the biggest risk is dehydration because the sores in people’s mouths make it hard to drink, he said.

“People need to not panic over it when they see it because they don’t know what it is,” he said.

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