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UNH warned of mumps illness on campus

UNH Health Services Executive Director Kevin Charles sent an email to the UNH community on Tuesday, Oct. 25 regarding the recent cases of mumps in the Durham area.

The email discussed a few cases of mumps that have occurred on campus since the summer and how New Hampshire and UNH Health Services is addressing this potential problem, though it’s not yet a critical concern. Also included in the email is important information regarding mumps and how to keep from contracting the illness.

“Whenever you have a public health concern, one of the most important things is to get the information out so that people respond to fact, not fear,” Community Health Nurse Judy Stevens said.

Health Services works closely with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, and often defers informational decisions to the department’s suggestions.

“We always report to the State of New Hampshire Health Department and they recommended we get some information out to our students,” Stevens said.

However, this is not the time to be alarmed as there is no actual public health threat, just a few cases in the vicinity.

“A public health concern is an infectious illness that threatens our community. Only two to three cases of mumps, that isn’t considered an outbreak. We just wanted to make sure people are aware of it, we want people showing symptoms to come to Health Services,” Stevens said.

Health Services wants to make sure that students and parents understand the facts behind this warning, rather than assuming the worst-case scenario.

“If we see three cases from the same community – let’s say from the same sports team or the same residence hall – that would be considered an outbreak. So the two or so cases we’ve seen, which don’t seem to be related, don’t constitute an outbreak,” Stevens said. “We wanted to be extra vigilant about letting our students know what’s going on to keep them safe.”

Students should still be aware of the potential to become ill, however.

“Universities are at particular risk for mumps, for many communicable diseases really, because you are living in close quarters, you’re under stress, you’re probably not getting the sleep that you need and your classes are crowded,” Stevens said. “That’s just the prime environment for things to spread. Mumps is not as contagious as some other things but you are susceptible.”

It’s been a long time since UNH has seen a mumps outbreak on the Durham campus.   

“I’ve been here for more than 20 years and there hasn’t been a mumps outbreak in that time,” Stevens said.

According to Stevens, there are many ways for students to prevent themselves from contracting mumps.

“Make sure that your vaccinations are up to date, be aware of what the symptoms are and if you have those symptoms go to Health Services and stay away from others,” Stevens said. “If we are doing a culture study, we get results of whether you have mumps back in about 24 hours. The usual things you would do to prevent catching a cold or the flu apply here.”

A majority of UNH students are already vaccinated for mumps.

“The measles, mumps, rubella [vaccines] you get two of, one when you are about 15 months old and then another one when you’re about four years old,” Stevens said. “That’s definitely one thing that we want you to do is make sure your vaccines are up to date. That’s the most important thing you could do to prevent the spread of mumps. We require that, so most students actually are up to date on their immunizations.”

Though the vaccine is very effective, it’s not completely reliable.

“The mumps [vaccine] is about 88 percent effective,” Stevens said. “You can still get mumps if you’ve been vaccinated.”

Information regarding mumps can be easily found through many sources, according to Stevens.

“If you go to our Health Services website there are all kinds of links there. Symptoms are on our website, as well as the letter that our director sent out and a link to the CDC website. There is more [information] than you could ever want to know about mumps,” Stevens said.

Mumps is not a deadly disease and is quite treatable, but it has similar characteristics to pink eye in terms of how easily it can spread.

“You can be infectious before you develop symptoms,” Stevens said. “People with mumps are usually considered most infectious from a few days before showing symptoms until five days after the onset of parotitis [swelling of glands in the neck and face].”

If you do happen to contract mumps, make the decision to stay home for a week. Stay informed, stay healthy and stay calm.

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