Duke sees over 60 hand, foot and mouth disease cases over past 4 weeks

An unprecedented outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease is plaguing East Campus, according to Duke Student Health. 

Duke has seen roughly 60 cases of HFMD in the past four weeks, according to Director of Student Health John Vaughn. The outbreak is largely concentrated on East Campus and mostly affects the Class of 2027. 

HFMD is most commonly found in children under five years old, and Duke has not experienced an outbreak of the disease in at least a decade, according to Vaughn.

“We don’t typically see HFMD on a college campus — it is more common in children so it usually impacts daycares and elementary schools,” Vaughn wrote in an email to The Chronicle. 

HFMD usually presents as a mild viral infection, and symptoms include fever, sore throat, mouth sores and a skin rash on the hands and feet. 

“[I]t is just a viral illness that is very contagious but also very mild and self-limited, meaning that there is no treatment needed and it goes away on its own,” Vaughn wrote. “Most students are better in a few days, but it may take 7-10 days to run its course. You can think of it like a cold that comes with a rash.”

HFMD spreads through close personal contact as well as contact with respiratory droplets or objects covered in viral particles. 

First-year Carter Casey said he first heard about the outbreak about two weeks ago, when word began to spread on East Campus. “I haven't heard anything official,” Casey said. “It's all been through word of mouth.”

Casey added that he knows six individuals with confirmed HFMD infections.

First-year Alex Free, who contracted the disease, first heard about the outbreak after being diagnosed at the Wellness Center.

Soon after receiving a diagnosis, however, Free said that news of his own case spread rapidly. “Even the postal workers on East Campus overheard that Alex Free has HFMD,” he quipped. 

While most cases of HFMD are mild, Free said he had a “really severe case” and was “out [of class] for a while.” He has since made a full recovery.

HFMD most commonly afflicts daycares and elementary schools, but outbreaks on college campuses are not unheard of. Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Dartmouth, West Virginia University, Lehigh University and Wesleyan University all battled unusually high numbers of cases in 2018.

There is no specific protocol for managing the disease, according to Vaughn. If a student believes they are infected with HFMD, Student Health recommends the student wear a mask, frequently wash their hands and self-isolate as much as possible until the rash has “mostly resolved.”


Mia Penner | Audience Engagement Chair

Mia Penner is a Trinity junior and an audience engagement chair of The Chronicle's 120th volume.

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