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WWU doctor: ‘Don’t share drinks, utensils, bongs or pipes’ in wake of disease cluster

Signs of hand, foot and mouth disease can include a skin rash on hands or feet. Five Western Washington University students have been diagnosed with the disease in the past two weeks, causing the Student Health Center to post a warning on Twitter.
Signs of hand, foot and mouth disease can include a skin rash on hands or feet. Five Western Washington University students have been diagnosed with the disease in the past two weeks, causing the Student Health Center to post a warning on Twitter. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Five Western Washington University students have been diagnosed with Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease in the past two weeks, causing Dr. Emily Gibson, director of the Student Health Center, to post an advisory on Twitter Monday.

“We are aware of a small cluster of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease among WWU students — this virus is more typically seen in young children, but can result in symptoms in adults that can last up to a week, and it is very contagious,” Dr. Gibson wrote in the Tweet.

In an email Tuesday to The Bellingham Herald, Dr. Gibson said Western sees sporadic Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease cases most years, but not usually the small cluster they’ve seen this year. Dr. Gibson also said that larger outbreaks of more than 100 cases have been seen at colleges on the East Coast this fall.

“This is a mild viral illness that typically afflicts young children,” Dr. Gibson said in the email. “It is now being seen more in college populations among non-immune individuals and is easily spread through coughing, sneezing or sharing utensils and drinks. The symptoms, which can include fever, body aches, cough, runny nose and lesions in the mouth, on the hands and feet, usually resolve in five to seven days. “

When students are diagnosed, Dr. Gibson said, the Student Health Center recommends they remain isolated as possible, including not attending class, to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

The Student Health Center will continue to monitor for further cases on campus, and Dr. Gibson asked students who feel they have symptoms to contact the center at 360-650-3400.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website provides more information on HFMD.

“Remember to keep your hands well washed before and after touching shared contaminated surfaces, avoid touching your mucus membranes with unwashed hands, don’t share drinks, utensils, bongs or pipes, and cover your coughs and sneezes,” Dr. Gibson told The Herald.

Dr. Greg Stern of the Whatcom County Health Department is aware of the Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease cluster, Dr. Gibson said, but since it is not a reportable contagious disease, no formal report is required.

“The Health Department regularly sends out advisories to local medical providers about trends in infectious diseases in the community,” Dr. Gibson told The Herald. “Since Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease is common among preschoolers and school-age children but not as much in young adults, I did inform (Dr. Stern) of our cases.”

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