McKinley Health Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana now reports that 14 individuals have been diagnosed with mumps. This cluster of infections appears to be part of a widespread emergence of the mumps virus throughout the Midwest.
Mumps is a viral illness easily passed from one person to the next, particularly when the virus contacts a person who has never received a mumps vaccination. The actual transmission from one person to another can occur through sharing liquids or eating utensils, direct contact with the virus on the skin or mouth area, kissing, or by transmission of respiratory droplets when close to an infected person who coughs or sneezes.
Mumps symptoms include facial swelling near the ear, discomfort with chewing or swallowing, and fever. The illness is generally self-limited. A small proportion of those with the disease may suffer more serious consequences, such as infertility, abdominal pain or neurologic abnormalities. There is no specific curative medicine but symptoms can be managed with agents chosen by a provider after a health care visit.
As expected, mumps virus this spring is spreading the fastest among unvaccinated populations. Nevertheless, even campuses with high vaccination rates are also experiencing new cases.
At present, Ohio has the largest number of cases of mumps this spring, with some 172 linked to Ohio State University. Cases are also being seen at the Madison campus of the University of Wisconsin.
Many people have asked why mumps infections are happening now. This is certainly a question that will need to be further explored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some theorize that the current strain of the virus may be a new strain.
Occasionally, slightly shifted strains of the mumps virus circulate in the United States. Because these new strains vary slightly from the strain originally used in the vaccinations provided to people during their childhood, it could explain some of the failure of the vaccine this year.
In general, 85 percent of people who have received two vaccinations for mumps can expect to be adequately protected, leaving 15 percent who may actually come down with mumps infection even though they have had two vaccinations.
Virtually all students at the University of Illinois have received two shots. There is limited data on the value of giving a third shot, but one study suggested that in an intense outbreak a third shot (a booster) may be helpful. Before making a decision about offering a third shot, the University will depend on the recommendations of local, state and national health authorities for guidance.
The cases currently part of our spring experience with mumps on the Urbana campus have no clear pattern within the University community. Cases have occurred in both international and domestic students, and it has also appeared within several elements of the Greek community. Both graduate and undergraduate students have been infected, and one University employee, not an employee of McKinley Health Center, was reported to have come down with mumps during the last few weeks.
Once exposed, a person may come down with mumps infection some 12 to 25 days after exposure. Once a person has mumps, he or she is considered contagious for five to seven days after the onset of initial symptoms.
McKinley Health Center has been working closely with the local public health authorities in managing the situation. Mumps is a mandated reportable illness, and reports of new cases are submitted to the local health authorities within 24 hours of diagnosis.
All individuals who are known to have mumps are isolated during their contagious period. Each case is handled as an individual situation, though most students choose to return home to receive the care of their parents. This is largely because students benefit from rest, management of symptoms, and other aspects best performed in the household. Additionally, the student’s parental home is the least likely place where additional infections might arise, since older individuals typically have strong immunity which protects them from coming down with mumps even after exposure to a known case.
When students cannot return home for parental care and isolation, the University of Illinois devises an individualized isolation plan. Typically this involves housing in a site where there are no roommates. The individual is required to stay in their quarters without contact with the outside world during their contagious period. Obviously, all cases are precluded from attending class, social events, sports events or eating in common dining areas during their contagious period.
Additional measures which are routine for known cases include distribution of surgical masks that help reduce the spread of the virus.
Infected students are also given educational information about mumps and also instructed in appropriate hand hygiene and other measures that reduce a potential spread.
Any roommates or other individuals who have lived in a room with a person who has mumps receive individual counseling regarding the possibility of mumps. Many of these individuals undergo blood testing to see if their immunity is still adequate for protection against mumps.
When mumps occurs in a student living in a residence hall general or a fraternity, the entire population of the residence hall, fraternity receives an email that informs them that a member of that community has come down with mumps and gives them information about the illness and recommendations about what to do if they believe they may have mumps.
As a general rule, any student at the University of Illinois who has symptoms consistent with mumps should visit McKinley Health Center as soon as possible. Additional information is available at: http://www.mckinley.illinois.edu/Handouts/mumps.htm
© 2014 The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign