The Grapevine

What Are Mumps Symptoms? Outbreak Hits College Campuses

Multiple cases of mumps have been reported at campuses in South Carolina and the Chicago area. Health officials are warning both students and visitors about their possible risk of exposure.

According to reports, Lewis University, Columbia College, Clemson University, Tri-County Technical College, and Loyola University are among the campuses that are affected.

The viral infection is characterized by swollen salivary glands, which may cause the infected person to develop puffy cheeks and a swollen jaw. Apart from other flu-like symptoms, mumps can also cause pain when performing activities like chewing and swallowing.

If symptoms do occur, it usually happens two to three weeks after exposure to the virus. Mumps is typically transmitted via infected saliva droplets, which can be passed on by kissing, coughing, sneezing, or sharing utensils and cups.

"It's often passed by saliva. So it can be passed by people sharing utensils as well as people who are living in really close conditions, say a college dorm," explained Nirav Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Though outbreaks have declined since the introduction of the vaccine, Dr. Laura McIntrye of Northwestern Medicine also noted their tendency to affect close-contact settings like schools and campuses when they do occur.

McIntyre added that immunization is the best way to deal with the risk of an outbreak. "For people who have been vaccinated, they’re a lot less likely to get mumps. Almost every case we see is with people who are unvaccinated," she said.

Those who have received the MMR vaccine — which stands for measles, mumps, and rubella — have a lower risk of contracting the disease. Typically, two doses of the vaccine are recommended (which is 88 percent effective) before a child enters school as a single dose (which is 78 percent effective) may not be effective enough.

While the number of confirmed cases still appear to be low, the word "outbreak" is being used as the institutions have noted several suspected cases among students. This is why, as an extra step to control the outbreak, officials are recommending that students and staff members receive booster shots.

Those who are already infected are assured that serious complications are quite rare. "It’s a short-lived illness that is not very dangerous," said Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

There is no specific treatment for mumps, as the focus is devoted to relieving symptoms and making sure the patient gets enough rest. Most people tend to recover within two weeks.