This fall, students have more to worry about than just the common cold. UC Berkeley students must take extra care with their health this season, as there is currently a confirmed outbreak of mumps on campus.
“The outbreak is holding at 15 confirmed cases,” said Kim LaPean of the UC Berkeley University Health Services.
Fifteen may not seem like much, but when factoring in the extreme contagiousness of the virus, it could potentially be a huge problem.
Like flu, the mumps virus can be spread extraordinarily easily. It is spread through saliva, so just a cough or sneeze can project infected particles across an entire classroom. Even sharing living spaces with someone who is sick puts you at a much higher risk. This makes fraternity houses and other community living spaces potential hot beds.
Most children in the United States receive two mumps vaccinations, known as the MMR vaccination, for Measles, Mumps and Rubella. This vaccination usually produces a life-long immunity, but according to a representative at the California State Health Department, the immune effect may have faded away in 5 to 10 percent of adolescents and young adults. In this small percentage of the population, the antibodies from the vaccination have simply faded away.
Mumps is like chicken pox in that children are not as badly affected as adults. The virus causes a fever, rash and painful swelling in the face and salivary glands.
“In adult men, it can cause the testicles to swell, which can lead to sterility,” said Thomas Ferguson, physician and medical director at the UC Davis Student Health and Counseling Services.
Mumps can also cause encephalitis – swelling of the brain – which can lead to headache, confusion, vomiting and even loss of consciousness.
At Berkeley, the Student Health Department (SHD) has recommended that everyone who lives in group housing be offered a dose of vaccine.
“Davis is not in a situation like that yet,” Ferguson said. “[But] if students are not sure if they got a vaccine, or if they want extra protection, a third dose would probably be a wise thing to do.”
“There is no medicine or treatment, so prevention is more important,” he said.
The Berkeley SHD has been focusing on educating the campus about prevention. This includes promoting hand-washing and telling people not to share utensils. The SHD has also been isolating any suspected cases and testing all patients showing signs and symptoms of infection.
“[Mumps] has a long incubation period. It is about four weeks,” LaPean said. “The first case was at the end of September, so the outbreak could last a couple of months.”
Aside from the basic prevention techniques, the Berkeley SHD has given out over 6,000 vaccinations. The more people who are immune to the virus, the harder it will be for the virus to spread.
Since there is no cure for mumps, treatment focuses on alleviating symptoms. This includes rest, healthy nutrition, re-hydration and anti-virals if the infection is severe. The National Institute of Health recommends applying cold and heat packs to affected areas, and cautions against giving aspirin to treat the headaches as aspirin can cause sudden brain damage in mumps patients.
Based on other similar outbreaks in Iowa and New York, the California State Health Department predicts that this outbreak will last a couple of months before disappearing.
HUDSON LOFCHIE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org