There have been mumps outbreaks in three different US colleges so far this year as instances of the illness are on the rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Three students at Illinois State University and about 20 at Louisiana State University (LSU) have been diagnosed with the condition this week, while there are four confirmed and three probable cases of mumps at Chapman University in California.
The news comes after statistics released by the CDC demonstrate that the mumps are on the rise, with the cumulative more than double where it was this time last year; There were 1,690 cases cases reported so far in 2017, as of March 18, according to the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, versus 697 cumulative cases in the same week last year.
So far this year, disease is at the highest rate its been since the big outbreaks in 2006, when there were well over 6,000 cases reported to the CDC.
Mumps is a contagious virus spread via coughing, sneezing, or sharing/touching the same items as an infected person. Common symptoms exhibited after about 16–18 days after infection, but this can range from 12–25 days, and include fever, headaches, muscle aches, tiredness, appetite loss, and parotitis (swollen salivary glands, like in the picture below).
Because patients are often asymptomatic for a number of weeks, this can make detecting the disease and stopping its spread difficult, as Dr. Parham Jaberi, an assistant state health officer in Louisiana, told CBS9 WFAB: "It becomes a challenge because once we identify the problem through public health, we're playing catch up."
Administering the MMR vaccine in infancy protects against the mumps, as well as measles and rubella. The CDC recommends that the first dose be administered at "12 through 15 months of age, and the second dose at 4 through 6 years of age."
However, the disease can spread even in highly vaccinated communities like schools or colleges, as evidenced by the recent university outbreaks, due to how easily it's transmitted in densely populated communities. For example, the Louisiana Department of Health said that the majority of the reported cases in LSU involved vaccinated patients.
If left untreated, this disease could cause complications like inflammation of the testicles in men, inflammation of the brain, meningitis, inflammation of the ovaries and/breast, or even deafness.
Speaking about the outbreak, Melissa Grave, a communicable disease supervisor at the McLean County Health Department in Illinois, said:
Once a virus like mumps is introduced into the community it's not too surprising to see cases reappear periodically, especially in a closed community like a college campus where you have a population that participates in social activities and often live in more densely populated living quarters. Our focus is now stopping the spread of the virus by encouraging students to be sure they've received two doses of MMR, stay home if they feel ill, and seek care from their healthcare provider if signs and symptoms persist."
This is not the first and won't be the last mumps outbreak in US colleges. From 2015–2016, the largest outbreaks occurred in Iowa and Illinois and involved several hundred students, which resulted in wide-scale vaccination campaigns.
Before then the biggest uptick was in 2006, with 6,500 reported cases which affected mainly college-aged students in the midwest.
The CDC attributed the spread of the disease to the "effectiveness of the vaccine, lack of previous exposure to wild-type virus, and the intensity of the exposure setting (such as a college campus) coupled with behaviors that increase the risk of transmission."