Dartmouth Sees Disease Outbreak

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, October 11, 2018

Hanover — Dartmouth College is experiencing a rare outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease, the viral illness marked by fever, sore throat and blister-like sores or rashes on the hands, mouth and feet.

More than 50 students have experienced hand, foot and mouth’s symptoms over the last several weeks, according to Mark Reed, Dartmouth’s health service director. Many have been treated at the college’s 10-bed infirmary — some staying overnight — prompting the school to release a campuswide letter to alert students of the outbreak and make recommendations for treatment.

Hand, foot and mouth symptoms, which also can include a loss of appetite and general malaise, are most common among infants and children ages 5 and under, since the body develops an immunity once exposed, according to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

But if a new viral strain surfaces, it is more prone to affect adults.

“Even if you’ve been exposed, a different strain can bring on symptoms,” said Antonia Altomare, an epidemiologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon. “That may be what we’re seeing at Dartmouth.”

Some students have been issued over-the-counter pain relievers, mouthwashes or sprays to help numb mouth pain, Reed said. Others have “self-isolated” by staying overnight in the infirmary or in their dormitory beds. While coughing is not generally a symptom of hand, foot and mouth disease, some students who have unrelated coughs are wearing masks in case they also are a hand, foot and mouth carrier, Reed said.

Meanwhile, Dartmouth facilities workers have doubled efforts to disinfect items such as public computers, tables and doorknobs, which can harbor the virus. Hand, foot and mouth disease can be spread by nose and throat secretions and is transferable even by infected persons not experiencing symptoms.

“Anytime you have a group of people all living together in close quarters, it’s going to be more spreadable,” Reed said. “It can spread pretty quickly in places like business centers, colleges and day care facilities.”

Hand, foot and mouth is not a “reportable” disease, meaning it’s not considered a major public health risk and therefore isn’t monitored by national or state health agencies. Dartmouth learned from the state Department of Health and Human Services that cases of hand, foot and mouth disease have been on a regional uptick recently, according to last week’s letter to students.

Altomare, the DHMC epidemiologist, and a spokesman for Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital said they haven’t noticed a clear increase in patient visits to treat these symptoms, but Altomare said it can be hard to pin down.

“We can’t really say with confidence how many cases we’ve had, because there’s no definitive test to diagnose it and it isn’t a reportable disease,” she said. “Generally, I don’t believe we’ve had a huge increase.”

Kate Seamans, director of communications at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, said her campus has not experienced an outbreak.

Thorough and frequent hand-washing and refraining from sharing drinking cups and utensils are some of the ways to prevent the spread of hand, foot and mouth disease, according to a document about the illness produced by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.