The latest infectious disease outbreak is in the Boston area where several colleges have reported cases of mumps. Mumps is a viral illness that causes swelling of the salivary glands as well as other symptoms of fever, fatigue, muscle aches and headache. Harvard University has been hit the hardest and has now documented over 40 cases this spring. Boston is a city with numerous colleges all in close proximity, and there are documented mumps cases at Boston University, University of Massachusetts and Tufts as well. These Boston area colleges are all in close proximity and are merely a walk, bike or train ride away from one another, so these students, while attending different universities may all co-mingle at parties and athletic events.
Mumps is spread via saliva (think kissing), or from sharing food, as well as via respiratory droplets being spread after coughing or sneezing. It may also be spread via contaminated surfaces that will harbor the virus. People may already be spreading the virus for 2 days before symptoms appear and may be contagious for up to 5 days after their salivary glands appear swollen….so in other words there is a long period of contagion where the virus may inadvertently be spread. It may also take up to 2-3 weeks after exposure before you come down with mumps.
All of the students who have come down with mumps had been vaccinated with the MMR vaccine (mumps, measles, rubella). Unfortunately, the mumps vaccine is only about 88% effective in preventing the disease. Despite the fact that children get two doses of vaccine at the age of 1 and again at 4 or 5 years….there may be some waning of protection over time. This may also contribute to the virus’s predilection for young adults in close quarters on college campuses. Something like the perfect infectious disease storm!
In the meantime there are some studies being undertaken to see if adolescents should receive a 3rd dose of the vaccine, but the results of the study are over a year away.
In the meantime, be alert for symptoms compatible with mumps and make sure to isolate yourself from others if you are sick. Harvard is isolating all of the patients with mumps for 5 days….which could mean that some students might even miss commencement. Doctors at Harvard and other schools with cases of mumps are still on the watch for more cases …stay tuned.