Parton Warns Students of Vermont Mumps Outbreak

By CAROLINE KAPP

Middlebury students received an email from the Parton student health center on Monday, Feb. 19 regarding an outbreak of the viral illness mumps at the University of Vermont and St. Michael’s College. A small number of students at these institutions had been affected so far, and there had been no cases reported among faculty or staff. The email assured Middlebury students that there had been no reported cases at the college.

Mumps is a viral illness most present in communities where people live in close quarters, like a college campus. For individuals who are immunized and in good health, mumps is usually mild and relatively non-dangerous. Middlebury College is considered a highly vaccinated community, with 99 percent of the student body immunized, according to the email from Parton.

But mumps is much more serious for those who are not immunized or have compromised immune systems due to other medical conditions. The virus is spread through sharing drinks or eating utensils, kissing, coughing and sneezing. Symptoms of mumps include tenderness and high swelling of the parotid gland, located between the jaw and ear, fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness and loss of appetite.

“High vaccination coverage helps limit the size, duration, and spread of mumps outbreaks,” Parton medical director Dr. Mark Peluso said. Since the mumps vaccination program started in 1967, the number of reported mumps cases in the United States has decreased by 99 percent, proving the effectiveness of the program.

But the program has not completely prevented mumps. One dose of the vaccination is 78 percent effective while two doses is 88 percent effective.

Under Vermont state law, all Middlebury students must receive two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine before coming to campus. A student may only be exempt from this law if the vaccine is detrimental to their health or if they have a religious exemption.

According to the health center’s email, the college is directly contacting students who have not been adequately vaccinated, and these students will be able to receive the necessary immunization.

The last time there were reported cases of mumps at Middlebury was in 2008, when a few cases were reported. Since then, there have been a few suspected cases, but no outbreaks. In 2016 and 2017, Bates, Bowdoin and Colby Colleges saw small outbreaks of mumps on their campuses.

The number of mumps cases reported each year in the United States has varied greatly. In 2009, there were 229 reported cases. In 2016, there were 6,366 reported cases.

Peluso also noted the challenge of diagnosing mumps in a highly vaccinated community.

“Vaccinated individuals may shed virus for a shorter period and might shed smaller amounts of virus,” he said, “thus degradation of the sample has greater consequences for successful detection of virus.”

Other viruses, such as the flu virus and the virus that causes mononucleosis, can also result in parotid swelling, making mumps challenging to diagnose and confirm.

If a student is suspected of having mumps, Parton will socially isolate the student for five days to prevent the spread of the virus. If three or more students are suspected to have mumps, or the college receives directions from the Department of Health, the school will encourage students without the vaccination to leave campus.

Peluso encouraged students to get eight hours of sleep a night, drink two to three liters of water every day, eat a well-balanced diet and avoid sharing saliva in order to avoid mumps.

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Parton Warns Students of Vermont Mumps Outbreak