An outbreak of hand-foot-mouth disease has been reported at Florida State University, with “less than 16” cases confirmed at the university in the past week, CNN reported. This is in addition to other cases reported in school settings in other areas of the country over the past few weeks. Although this viral condition is fairly common among young children, the recent outbreak among college-aged adults has confused health officials.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hand-foot-mouth disease is a common viral illness that usually affects children ages five and younger. It begins with a fever, reduced appetite, sore throat, and general feeling of being unwell. After a few days, the virus can cause painful sores to develop in the mouth, and sometimes rashes and blisters may occur on the hands and feet. Although there is no cure or specific treatment for the infection, the pain caused by the ulcers can usually be addressed with a mild pain reliever or numbing spray, and symptoms should go away on their own in a few days.

The virus is very contagious, but according to the Director of University Health Services Lesley Sacher, outbreaks such as that occurring at FSU are more common in day care centers than on college campuses, CNN reported. However, although college breakouts of this classically juvenile disease are uncommon, they are not completely unheard of, as outbreaks are likely to occur in any confined community, such as a home, school, or even military base.

In addition, late summer and early fall are the “peak season” for the disease, but this year there seems to be more overall occurrences of the ailment throughout the country than in past years. For example, Dr. Christopher Houts of Powell Pediatric Care in Ohio told CNN that he's seen more cases this year than any time in his 21 years as a pediatrician, but he's not sure why. Similar outbreaks occurred in New Jersey schools in late August and earlier this month. According to Jack Kripsak, a sports medicine and family practice physician and also the chair of the state athletic association’s medical advisory board, the reason for such a large and widespread occurrence of this virus may be due to the emergence of a new strain, NJ reported.

“It has to be something that people haven’t been exposed to before,” said Kripsak. “It has to be a new strain. Otherwise, why would this be happening? We’ve never had it before. No one’s ever seen this before.”

Although it’s important to understand why exactly the virus is spreading so much faster this year, the illness itself is not too much cause for concern. HFMD poses the greatest risk to pregnant women as in very rare cases it can lead to miscarriage or even be passed on to the child. However, for most individuals, the symptoms will clear up on their own within a few days. In very rare cases however, the illness can cause death.

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