An email from Kevin Charles, the executive director of the University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) Health & Wellness, to the UNH community on Feb. 7 said that there were three confirmed cases of mumps infection on the Durham campus. WMUR later reported on Feb. 14 that there were four confirmed cases and two probable cases.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mumps is a virus which causes swollen salivary glands which results in puffy cheeks. Common symptoms include fever, headache and a loss of appetite. Generally, symptoms appear about two to three weeks after infection, with symptoms lasting approximately two weeks. The infection can transmit only through direct contact with respiratory drops of saliva, a point echoed by UNH Health & Wellness and the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. Though more cases have been reported, the risk to the overall community remains low.
Kathleen Grace-Bishop, UNH Health & Wellness’ director of education and promotion, aimed to clear the air on the mumps outbreak. She outlined how Health and Wellness has taken a proactive role in preventing further spread of the virus.
“Mumps is a reportable illness to the state,” Grace-Bishop said. “We made them aware as soon as we had suspected cases.”
After it was reported, Health & Wellness aimed to inform students on prevention as per their two recent emails to the UNH community.
“We’re providing the same education around the mumps as we do regarding the flu,” she said. “If you’re sick, stay home. Be careful being around people who are sick, washing your hands consistently for 20 seconds, not sharing utensils or vaping pens.”
Grace-Bishop believes one of the most effective tools is prevention at the individual level. Much like the flu, mumps can spread relatively quickly. Since the MMR vaccine’s introduction in 1967, mumps infections have decreased in the United States by approximately 99 percent. Outbreaks generally occur only in tight-knit communities and universities, where communal living space is common. Even those with two doses of the MMR vaccine can still possibly contract the virus. On top of this, the state does recommend that those in close contact with those infected to receive a third dose of the MMR vaccine.
As per the CDC, individuals are not required to actively seek out a third booster vaccination. Given state involvement, an individual who is part of an at-risk group will be notified. The MMR vaccine, according to Grace-Bishop, is 88 percent effective.
UNH requires that all incoming and current students be immunized with both doses of the MMR vaccine. However, despite this requirement, given that students live in tight-knit communities, the chances of a virus such as mumps spreading, though low, is slightly higher than in other communities. Despite the increased number of cases in recent days, the risk to the community at large remains low.
In Charles’ most recent email, he urged students to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
“If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based (at least 60 percent alcohol) hand sanitizer,” the message adds.
Charles further recommends that community members avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; not share drinks, smoking/vaping devices “or other utensils or objects that may transmit saliva”; avoid close contact with people who are sick; stay home from school and work when they’re not feeling well; cover their cough or sneeze with a tissue then throw the tissue in the trash; and “clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.”
For those concerned, visit Health & Wellness in person or call (603) 862-9355 for more information.