By Samantha L. Vittorioso
Master of Public Health Student, School of Health Sciences, American Military University
James Madison University (JMU), located in Harrisonburg, Virginia, recently had an outbreak of mumps that resulted in 14 confirmed cases of student illness and five confirmed cases among staff members. This outbreak prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to recommend that already vaccinated JMU staff and students receive an additional vaccine in order to stop the spread of mumps on campus. Officials have also recommended vaccinations for the surrounding community.
Although mumps are not rare, this year has seen an increase in the number of cases in Virginia. The Virginia Department of Health is currently investigating other cases, which are not expected to be associated with the current outbreak at JMU.
According to the CDC, last year at this time, there were 17 reported cases of mumps in Virginia, compared to the 30 cases reported so far this year. Reports by the Virginia Department of Health have been as high as 66 cases of mumps identified in Virginia since early March.
Mumps Is a Public Health Concern Due to Its Communicability
Mumps is highly contagious, so this outbreak at JMU is a public health concern. JMU students and staff can infect many off-campus individuals, extending the parameters of the outbreak. To help reduce the transmission rate, JMU’s University Health Center began an intensive public health initiative.
Interventions included both widespread information about how to reduce the spread of transmission, lists of signs and symptoms, and immunization clinics. Methods utilized to reduce the transmission of mumps were:
- Washing hands often, not sharing drinks or eating utensils
- Cleaning often-touched surfaces regularly
- Staying home if ill
- Covering the mouth when coughing or sneezing
On the JMU website, updates were posted to keep students and staff informed about the current mumps situation on campus. To assist students and staff with complying with the CDC recommendation for an additional mumps vaccination, JMU’s University Health Center established locations for free immunization clinics for staff and students.
Symptom of Mumps
Mumps is spread by a virus. It mainly affects those who are unvaccinated, under-vaccinated or living in communal settings.
The first symptoms include a headache, malaise and fever, followed by the characteristic symptom of swollen salivary glands. Early symptoms can be confused with the symptoms of a cold or the flu.
As a result, infected people may ignore the signs of mumps. Because the appearance of the tell-tale symptom of swollen salivary glands is not immediately apparent, infected individuals may unknowingly spread the disease.
Individuals can become infected for weeks before experiencing symptoms. They may be contagious up to two days prior to the first appearance of symptoms.
Immunizations for Mumps Typically Begin in Childhood
Regular immunizations for mumps occur in children at around age one and again at age four. This two-dose regimen provides approximately 88% immunity against mumps; one dose provides approximately 78% immunity.
On average, the overall effectiveness range of the mumps vaccine is 31% to 95%. Even if individuals received the recommended vaccines, they may still be at risk of contracting the virus.
Mumps is transmitted through several sources:
- Secretions from the mouth, nose or throat during sneezing or coughing
- Sharing eating utensils or drinks with an infected individual
Those infected with mumps generally do not need treatment other than pain relievers. The symptoms generally fade within a week.
Mumps in Adults Increases Risks for Additional Health Problems
For adults infected with mumps, however, there is a risk of severe complications. For example, the risk for meningitis in adults with mumps is as high as 15%.
In addition, adults with mumps are at an increased risk for deafness, encephalitis (in very rare cases) and permanent neurological damage. It is important for adults who are infected to stay home and limit close contact with others to prevent exposure.
JMU recommended that all staff and students follow the CDC recommendation and receive a mumps vaccination. These vaccinations are available at either a free on-campus clinic or at primary caregivers.
About the Author
Samantha L. Vittorioso is a Master of Public Health student at American Military University and an analytical scientist for an Army National Guard Weapons of Mass Destruction team in Guam. Samantha focuses on determining the composition of unknown chemical and biological substances. She also advises on mitigation techniques of the effects of chemical, biological, radiological (CBRN) and terrorist events that impact public health and the environment.