Midwest mumps cases spike

Brenden Williams

The Midwest sees an outbreak in mumps in 2016.

Vaccines nearly eradicated this dangerous virus in recent decades, but with the recent “anti-vaxxer” movement and little awareness of the virus, it is becoming more of a threat to children and students once again. College students may be especially be at risk because of close quarters in dorms.

The worst year for mumps in the past two decades was 2006, when multiple college campuses reported mumps outbreaks across the midwest with nearly 7,000 students being affected. Since 2006, very few large-scale outbreaks have occurred, only 2009 and 2010 saw more than 2,000 cases due to an outbreak in New York.

In recent years, numbers of outbreaks and cases have been increasing. The years 2014 and 2015 saw more than 1,000 cases each, while 2011 to 2013 had the lowest numbers since the 2006 outbreak, the cases numbering in the hundreds for three straight years.

With cases building in 2014 and 2015, 2016 was a different chapter in a dangerous book where nearly 5,500 students across the country contracted to the virus. Many outbreaks were in the midwest; from Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas stretching to Illinois, Iowa and Indiana, all of which had more than 100 cases, and four of those states had more than 300.

Avoiding contracting mumps is similar to avoiding the common cold and vaccinations are required for children to enroll in school and live in dorms. The vaccines itself is 88 percent effective, preventing most would-be cases.

Mumps is spread by saliva, which means coughing, sneezing, sharing chapstick and kissing are ways to transmit the virus. Easy ways to avoid it are as simple as washing your hands and covering your mouth and nose when you or someone else coughs.

Shirley Dinkel, Washburn’s director of Student Health, has been paying attention to the series of outbreaks in the past year because they were centered on other college campuses.

“When you live in close quarters, mumps spreads faster and easier,” Dinkel said. “So this year it affected university campuses because of those close quarters and it came to our attention.”

No cases have been reported on college campuses in Kansas yet this year, so Dinkel and Washburn haven’t needed to take official precautions yet. They have been watching other outbreaks across the country and are ready if one does make its way to WU.

“Right now we haven’t really had to take any precautions because we haven’t had any incidents in our area,” Dinkel said. “We haven’t had to do any surveillance or anything on our campus, while other campuses have added a third vaccination. Typically with Mumps you have two childhood vaccinations, one when you’re a baby and one when you start school. Some students have needed a third vaccination to boost their immune system.”

Dinkel also said Washburn’s response would depend on the size, nature and spread of the outbreak if it were to find a way on campus.

The symptoms can range from flu-like symptoms to swollen saliva glands and is contagious one to three days before noticeable symptoms may occur. It also incubates for eight to 16 days after coming in contact with someone with mumps, so is often hard to spot.

Devantae Goldsby, sophomore business administration major, thinks vaccinations and cleanliness are keys to avoiding any disease, especially mumps.

“The most important thing I think is to have up to date vaccinations,” Goldsby said. “Statistically speaking, it will only help your chances. If it happens at Washburn I’m going to start washing my hands a lot more, keep a bottle of sanitizer on me all the time and maybe shower a time or two extra every day. I might avoid the dorms as much as possible too, just to be safe.”