Campus seeing mumps outbreak

Molly Dotson, Assistant Photo Editor

Health Service has diagnosed a dozen student cases of mumps within the last two weeks. Eric Davidson, interim director of Health Service, said this is the second time an outbreak has occurred on campus this school year, despite a state law requiring students to present proof of mumps immunity in the beginning of the fall semester.

The immunity law, however, excludes students who are granted a medical or religious exemption the university.

About 10 percent of those who are vaccinated are still susceptible to the viral infection, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Davidson said he did not know if the affected students were vaccinated, but he suspected they were part of that 10 percent.

“My guess is that the majority of them were (vaccinated) because of the state immunization laws,” Davidson said.

The most common way to contract mumps is by sharing contaminated objects such as eating utensils and drinking glasses, Davidson said.

Students can prevent furthering the outbreak by washing their hands regularly, avoiding unnecessary physical contact with others and covering their mouths and noses when coughing and sneezing.

“Many of the things that we would do to avoid colds and flus are the same things that we would do with this,” Davidson said.

The first signs of mumps are non-specific symptoms such as a low-grade fever, headache, muscle aches, fatigue and loss of appetite, Davidson said.

A person’s salivary glands in front of their ears will begin to swell about two days after the onset of those non-specific symptoms, Davidson said.

“Sometimes it just looks like their jaws are really swollen, and that’s really kind of the telltale symptom,” Davidson said.

Students diagnosed with mumps are strongly encouraged to isolate themselves for the five days that it is contagious.

“Mumps is not one of the illnesses where we can legally quarantine somebody, so really all we can do is make a strong recommendation that they isolate,” Davidson said.

If students think they have mumps, Davidson said Health Service prefers the student calls them at 217-581-3013 before coming into the clinic.

“We have some protocols in place,” Davidson said. “We’re routing students who think they have mumps a little bit differently to try to minimize their exposure to the other students who are coming here.”

Davidson said he attributes the spread of this viral infection to the large amount of people on campus.

“We have a dense population that has a lot of opportunity to interact, and that’s a thriving ground for an illness,” Davidson said.

He said the outbreak could have to do with the mentality of traditional students as well.

“A lot of times, I think particularly with our traditional population, 18 to 24 year olds, there’s a sense that ‘I’ve not been sick previously, I don’t have strong perception of risk, it’s not going to happen to me,’ and boom, it happens,” Davidson said.

Another reason the outbreak happened is because students travel a lot.

“Our society has become so mobile that it’s very common for our students to go to other campus, and other campus’ students to come here, and you have that exchange,” Davidson said.

He said all in all, the cause of such an incident on Eastern’s campus is not easily explained.

“Illness transmission can be very complex, but to keep it simple, it’s just people interacting with people,” Davidson said.


Molly Dotson can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]