A few weeks ago, I came down with a minor cold.
My friend and coworker texted me asking if I was OK, worried it could’ve been the mumps, since there’s been an outbreak on Main Campus. And for a moment, I was worried too even though I am updated on my vaccines. Luckily, my symptoms went away after a few days.
Mumps is a highly infectious disease passed through saliva and respiratory secretions in close contact. Symptoms often appear 16-18 days after exposure; they are similar to the flu, with very swollen glands near the face and neck, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
People with mumps are considered infectious from two days before swelling begins through five days after it begins, according to the university-wide email sent on Feb. 28 from Student Health Services.
With the current revitalization of the anti-vaccination movement, I’m not surprised a disease with dramatically reduced prevalence in the United States would reemerge. I wrote a column urging students to get their vaccines last semester, and I stand by that argument even more amid this outbreak.
But getting vaccinated as a child does not guarantee immunity. Most of the students who tested positive for mumps were vaccinated with the mumps, measles and rubella vaccine. But it wears off over time, which is why it’s essential to get an additional booster shot.
The CDC recommends people receive the MMR first by 15 months old and then between the ages of 4 and 6. Students were mandated to get the meningitis vaccine as freshmen to live in residence halls, but were not required to get another MMR booster.
The booster at Student Health Services is not covered by the University Services fee or by some insurances. I wish it could be more accessible.
“The mumps part of the MMR is only 85 percent effective,” said Mark Denys, the director of Employee and Student Health Services. “It’s still important to get it because even if you get mumps…risk factors are less because you have the vaccine.”
If you can’t get a booster, you can and should combat the spread of germs by isolating yourself when you can. Mumps is rarely a deadly illness to an otherwise healthy person, but it is a virus that cannot be cured. So let’s take it seriously; wash your hands throughout the day and maybe even wear a mask. It’s spreading through the air as we speak.
As soon as he could, Denys advised the Temple community about the cases on Feb. 28. He sent updates on March 4 and 13.
The first confirmed case came in Feb. 28 right before 5 p.m., and Student Health Services had started testing people two days before that, Denys said. The Philadelphia Department of Public Health confirmed there were no other cases at that time.
Denys said Temple is trying to make sure everyone doesn’t panic.
“It is manageable, and the risk factors are not very severe,” Denys said.
Right now, we’re seeing the most reported cases of mumps in Philadelphia since 2011. There are now 12 confirmed and 42 probable cases in Philadelphia. And three of those have been reported outside of Philadelphia as well.
“We wanted to get that email out that night to help manage things and let students know before they got home for spring break,” Denys said. “It is also easier to self isolate when they’re at home and not at school.”
But it is hard to isolate yourself from someone who has the mumps for some students. Briana Reuss, a sophomore kinesiology major whose roommate was diagnosed with mumps, is one of them.
“He was given masks [by Student Health Services] and has been wearing them around the house to try and keep us safe from catching it,” Reuss said. “My other roommates and I have tried taking precautions by wiping down items he used and keeping a safe distance.”
There is no pattern to these cases, either, Denys said.
“The most complicated part is there isn’t a link between everybody,” Denys said. “There is not one common theme or connection between the students, which makes it difficult to determine the source.”
In response to the outbreak that seems to be getting worse and worse, Temple is requiring all new students to get an MMR vaccine starting in Fall 2019 with a few exceptions. But for returning students who have not had a recent booster, the risk of infection is apparent.
I commend the university for keeping all of us informed, avoiding complete hysteria. We can thank Denys for that.
Before another outbreak of sorts spreads around campus, let’s make sure we’re all vaccinated and taking care of ourselves. There’s no valid argument against it.