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Western student contracts mumps virus

Nicholas Ebelhack, News Editor

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Western Illinois University’s Macomb campus confirmed its first case of the mumps virus on Tuesday following a student’s departure to enter a period of isolation to reduce the chances of the virus spreading.

Medical Chief of Staff at the Beu Health Center Dr. Michael Waters said that the mumps are highly contagious and show very little difference from other contagious viruses.

“The early symptoms are just like any other sort of viral case, you can feel symptoms of a cold or a fever, you can have headaches, muscle aches and some fatigue, but that’s not really going to distinguish it from any other kind of cold,” Waters said.

However, according to Waters, the mumps have one differentiating symptom that differentiates it from other viral infections.

“The thing that’s really distinguished for the mumps is the swelling of the parotid gland just in front of the ears and on the cheeks,” Waters said. “That’s what really sets it apart from any other viral infection.”

These symptoms, however, may not show up again on campus for sometime. According to Waters, the disease develops slowly, and infected people can go weeks without knowing that they have the mumps.

“I suspect that we may see more cases, but so far we haven’t seen any more cases of mumps,” Waters said. “It is possible we could have more in the future. Another thing about mumps is that the incubation period is about 12 to 25 days, so we aren’t going to know for a while if we will have an outbreak at all.”

While the mumps doesn’t pose a significant threat for those infected compared to other common viruses, because of how contagious it is Waters said that the mumps especially pose a threat to universities.

“It’s something to look out for on university campuses because there are so many people in close contact living in the dorms or going to class, whereas in other places people aren’t necessarily in close contact like that,” Waters said. “The close contact makes it spread pretty easily and that’s why we worry about it, so that we can limit the spread.”

And even if vaccinated for MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella), there is still a chance that a presumably immune person can contract the virus.

“About 30 percent of the people who have received the MMR vaccine can still be infected with the mumps virus, so the MMR vaccine is only 60-70 percent effective,” Waters said. “Unimmunized individuals have a 100 percent chance of being infected if they come in contact with an individual who is contagious.”

Previously, mumps cases were infrequent; however with recent social movements against vaccinations, the number of cases have increased.

“It used to be that we thought mumps was pretty well eradicated when people were getting vaccinated,” Waters said. “Now we are finding that it isn’t completely eradicated now that people are opting out of getting immunized. It’s becoming more common.”

The mumps can also be associated with more severe symptoms in some cases. Waters said that in a small number of cases, symptoms such as the swelling of the testicles or ovaries and meningitis can occur.

“Very rarely, and I mean less than 1 percent of the time, you can develop symptoms such as testicular swelling and meningitis, but you can also develop those symptoms in other viral infections.”

In order to mitigate the spread of the disease, anyone who is diagnosed with the mumps from Western is supposed to go home for a five-day isolation period. Western is prepared for a limited number of cases to arise and can support the isolation of a small number of students.

“If they are unable to go home, we do have some limited resources on campus in some rooms, but we don’t have a ton of those available,” Waters said.

Practicing general healthy habits is what Water suggested to prevent contracting the mumps virus. In addition to emphasizing washing hands frequently, Waters said that it is best to avoid situations where someone could potentially be infected.

“Students should also just avoid sick people primarily and keep your distance,” Waters said. “And don’t share cups and utensils with someone who could be potentially infectious through someone’s saliva or respiratory secretions.”

Avoiding people who seem as though they just may have a cold is crucial, as the mumps do not show it’s trademark cheek swelling until after the infected person has already been contagious.

“Somebody can have symptoms for two days prior to the swelling in the cheeks, and it’s going to be really hard for us to determine if it is mumps if they don’t have the swelling,” Waters said. “I called the Illinois Department of Public Health and they recommended that we don’t test for mumps if they don’t exhibit the swelling in the cheeks, so once we know that they need to be isolated for five days as that is the height of the infective period.”

Regardless of the contagiousness, Waters emphasizes that the mumps are no more threatening than other common viral infections, and that the Beu’s main goal is ensuring that as few people get infected as possible.

“The major thing is don’t panic. The mumps is not a severe disease at all, and symptoms such as testicular pain, meningitis and ovarian pain are very rare and happen less than 1 percent of the time,” Waters said. “However, this is something that we want to contain and we don’t want students missing school and missing class.”

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The independent student newspaper of Western Illinois University. Serving Macomb since 1905.
Western student contracts mumps virus