Danielle Loch, a first-year student at the University of Kansas, went to see a doctor for pink eye last week and left with instructions to stay in her residence hall room for the next four days in case she has mumps.
According to a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a national average of 265 cases of mumps are reported each year since 2001.
But this year in Iowa alone, more than 900 confirmed, suspect and probable cases have been reported and the virus has spread to neighboring states.
Loch, referring to her isolation, said her university was “just doing precautions because so many people are getting it.”
She said she received her measles, mumps and rubella vaccination before starting college and isn’t sure whether she was infected, but will receive the results from a blood test in a few days.
“Anyone who goes (to the clinic) for a sore throat or anything, they’re like, You have the mumps,” she said.
Loch said students at the University of Kansas were warned by professors and posters in the residence halls, and her sorority chapter made an announcement.
According to the CDC report, the average age of people infected with mumps is 21. A majority of the patients in this year’s outbreak experienced swollen glands in the cheeks, jaw and below the tongue, the report stated. Other possible symptoms include fever, headache and tiredness.
Loch said she experienced headaches, dizziness when she stood and that she felt tired.
In Wisconsin, cases of mumps were reported at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Marquette University, Milwaukee public schools and Milwaukee Area Technical College, said Raquel Silmanowicz, health communications officer for the Milwaukee Health Department.
Last week the number of reported cases in Milwaukee was in the single digits, and this week it climbed to 37, she said.
The United Kingdom experienced a mumps epidemic, reaching a high of 56,000 cases in 2005. The epidemic in Iowa shares the same genotype as the mumps strain in the United Kingdom and, according to the CDC report, has been linked to the outbreak in the United States.
“Despite control efforts and a highly-vaccinated population, this epidemic has spread across Iowa and potentially to neighboring states,” the report stated.
Silmanowicz said the virus had been on her department’s radar because of the Iowa outbreak and that when they saw a concerned case, they knew it was “just a fraction of what was out there.”
“We mobilized quickly to provide risk communication to those educational institutions so that they got the appropriate message out to their students, faculty and staff,” she said.
Public health and marketing director at Boynton Health Service Dave Golden said there are lots of guesses to be made as to why mumps has infected so many college-age students, but no one is sure why and the CDC is trying to answer that question in Iowa.
Silmanowicz said mumps might be spreading through universities in Milwaukee because of students’ close living quarters and lifestyles.
“It’s a highly contagious disease so it doesn’t help that there’s mass spreading, especially since it spreads through coughing and sneezing,” she said. “Then you couple that with students being in close quarters and socializing, it makes for quick transmission.”
Eight cases of mumps have been reported in Minnesota this year, according to a Minnesota health alert.
“We think it’s a possibility that mumps could show up (at the University),” Golden said.
Doug Schultz, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health said that ever since the department started noticing what went on in Iowa, it was concerned the disease might spread to Minnesota given the amount of contact Minnesotans might have with Iowans.
No cases have been reported at the University, Golden said, but the Boynton staff is taking steps to prepare for cases by double-checking the immunizations of its employees.
“Then if we do get patients with suspected mumps, we use infection control, steps like masks for working with patients,” Golden said. “The next thing is, if we do have a patient with suspected mumps, they’re going to have to be at home and isolated as much as possible so they don’t spread it.”
Mumps can spread to people who have received the vaccine, Golden said.
“Even in a well-vaccinated population you can still have outbreaks like this,” he said. “The guess is that if we weren’t as well-vaccinated as we are, it would even be larger — as far as an outbreak.”
Mumps spreads through coughing, sneezing, saliva or objects that come into contact with an infected person, Schultz said.
Golden said students at the University can prevent mumps by getting the immunization, having good hygiene and “good old hand washing.”
“Just keeping informed, watching what’s going on, is the best thing,” Golden said. “Obviously everything cranks up more when we see the first case close to us.”