The Return of the Mumps

The Return of the Mumps

While students and faculty were preparing for finals, they were also keeping a wary eye on University Health Services announcements for the last week—and washing their hands religiously. Since May 6, three UT students have been diagnosed with the mumps, with UHS updates about each case. We spoke with David Vander Straten, UHS Medical Director, about the mini-outbreak.

Anna Daugherty: Following the announcements, a lot of people on campus are pretty nervous about mumps now. How dangerous is it really?

David Vander Straten: It’s not quite as scary as it sounds, really. Up to 40-50 percent of people who get it don’t have symptoms, or they have very mild, flu-like symptoms without the characteristic swelling that comes with mumps. It’s a relatively mild infection, but it is viral. There are potential complications like deafness, brain inflammation, and sterility, but they are rare. State law says mumps must be reported though, and UHS wants to be very transparent about it all.

AD: Before this outbreak, when was the last case of mumps on campus?

DVS: It’s really rather novel. The entire county usually sees zero to three cases per year, and now we’ve had three at UT suddenly. I’ve asked around, but my colleagues and I can’t remember any cases in the last 20 to 30 years. I did have a former student email me and say they had mumps at UT in the ’60s, so that’s the last case I know of.

AD: Symptoms can appear anywhere from 12-25 days after infection, is someone with mumps contagious that entire time?

DVS: The contagious period is usually from when they begin showing symptoms up to five days after symptoms have appeared. So during the incubation period, that 12-25 days until they start showing symptoms, they aren’t contagious.

AD: Are students not required to have MMR vaccines for enrollment?

DVS: International students are required to have the MMR vaccine, but domestic students are not (they’re currently only required to have the meningitis vaccine). The most at-risk is anyone who has not had the vaccine or not had mumps. The usual vaccine consists of two doses and is 88 percent effective at preventing the disease (one dose is 78 percent effective).

AD: When UHS announced the second case of mumps, they said that student may have been the source of the disease for the first student?

DVS: In these reportable diseases, the health department will interview anyone with the disease to find out who they’ve been in contact with. In this case, after they interviewed the first student diagnosed, they found that another student had actually been the source case, and had been diagnosed earlier.

AD: Two of the students with mumps had recently gone to separate fraternity parties. What has been done to alert the students at those parties?

DVS: We’ve sent the announcement to the entire university, and we’ve sent personal notifications to students who were in classes with the diagnosed students. Both the fraternities that had students at their parties were contacted by Texas Health and Human Services about it. They’ve both been very cooperative and are working privately to notify their guests.

AD: Students are starting to pack up and head home after finals, how can they prevent potentially taking mumps home and spreading it to family and friends?

DVS: [The State of Texas] has sent a notice to physicians across the state to be aware of it and consider mumps symptoms with their patients. Mumps is shared either through the respiratory system or through direct contact. So it’s important for students to cough into their sleeve or a tissue, wash their hands, not share cups or utensils—all those things your mom always tried to teach you to do.

Editor’s Note: According to Vander Straten, all three students had previously received their vaccinations. 

Illustration by Melissa Reese. 


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