Flashback: Return of the mumps

Staff Reports
Flashback: Return of the mumps

    In any given school year, colleges make news for all the wrong reasons. Students start a bonfire in the quad. They uproot the goal posts after a big game. A fraternity or sorority is tossed off campus. But this year there is another problem: College students have the mumps.

     Ohio State University reported 28 cases as of March 19. Earlier this year, New York news outlets reported that 13 Fordham University students had come down with the mumps.    
     The affliction, once widespread, was virtually eliminated after a vaccine was developed in the 1960s. Even so, outbreaks of the virus have been reported in recent years. In 2006, there were more than 6,000 cases, primarily in colleges, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2009-2010, roughly 3,500 cases were reported.
     As bad as that sounds, the illness was once ubiquitous. Everything changed in 1963, when a father was awakened by his 5-year-old daughter, according to The History of Vaccines, a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The girl’s neck was swollen. Her father realized she had the mumps and put her back to bed.
     The father, Maurice Hilleman, was also a prolific researcher at pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. Hilleman got into his car, drove to work and retrieved a sample kit. He returned home and swabbed the back of his daughter’s throat. With that sample, he developed a vaccine, which was licensed in 1967.
     So that was that, right?  The mumps should have been relegated to the history books. Not so fast.
     Two doses of the vaccine are 88 percent effective at preventing the mumps, according to the CDC. One dose is 78 percent effective.  In other words, if you have had two doses of the vaccine, you are probably safe -- but you can still get the mumps.   Here are the basics:

     The symptoms:
     Fever, body aches, headaches and swelling of the salivary glands. The parotid gland, just below and in front of the ear, may swell.  Most people recover within two weeks.    

    Before the vaccine, the illness was one of the major causes of deafness in children. Now, the most common complication is inflammation of the testicles in men who have reached puberty. This rarely leads to fertility problems. Mumps can also inflame the ovaries or breasts in females who have reached puberty.
    Other rare complications include inflammation of the brain and/or tissue covering the brain and spinal cord (encephalitis/meningitis), according to the CDC.

     How it spreads:
     Universities are basically highbrow petri dishes. Consider this warning from the CDC:  “Items used by an infected person, such as soft drink cans or eating utensils, can also be contaminated with the virus, which may spread to others if those items are shared. In addition, the virus may spread when someone with mumps touches items or surfaces without washing their hands and someone else then touches the same surface and rubs their mouth or nose.”
     How universities are handling the outbreak:
    The CDC recommends isolation for five days after the glands swell. At Fordham, students with the infections either returned home or were isolated from other residents during the time they were contagious. Ohio State officials have also asked students with the illness to stay home. 

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      See a video of Maurice Hilleman -- who passed away in 2005 -- describing his mumps research on the History of Vaccines website.


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