Harvard Mumps Outbreak Reaches 40 Confirmed Cases, Could Negatively Impact The Commencement

Public health officials have reported the contagious disease mumps is continuing to spread through the Harvard University community as 40 cases have been confirmed. According to ABC News, it was on February 29 of this year that the first outbreak was reported.

“This is really happening in congregate settings where people are in dormitories. College campuses are the perfect storm, because students are sharing all kind so things, they’re in close contact and going to parties.”

Susan Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the Cambridge Public Health Department, reveals that Harvard University is the perfect breeding ground for mumps as college students living on campus are always in close contact and sharing all sorts of things.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mumps is a contagious virus spread through mucus or saliva in the mouth. While a large portion of the population is vaccinated against the virus at a young age with the MMR vaccine, the vaccine does not guarantee 100 percent protection from the virus. Two doses of the MMR vaccine are considered to be roughly 88 percent effective at preventing the virus. One dose of the vaccine is considered to be 78 percent effective.

The more common symptoms of mumps include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen and tender salivary glands under the ears

It is not uncommon for someone to get mumps and have little to no symptoms. Some people do not even know they have the virus. In very rare cases, severe complications of mumps can include inflammation of the ovaries, inflammation of the testicles, or meningitis. This virus is known for giving you a swollen jaw and puffy cheeks. Fortunately, most people who get mumps will recover from it in just a few weeks.

Boston.com reported that there were a dozen students still in isolation with confirmed cases of the mumps at Harvard University as of Monday.

The public health department located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Harvard is also located determined that all students who were infected with the mumps a month ago had received the vaccine prior to being infected.

The director of the Massachusetts university’s health services, Paul J. Barreira, stated that the virus outbreak at Harvard was beginning to worry him.

“I’m actually more concerned now than I was during any time of the outbreak. I’m desperate to get students to take seriously that they shouldn’t be infecting one another.”

He went on to say that the mumps virus could negatively impact the Harvard University commencement on May 26 of next month if the virus continues to spread.

“If there’s a spike this week, that means those students expose others, so now we’re looking at a potential serious interruption to commencement for students. Students will get infected and then go into isolation.”

To date, there have not been any confirmed cases of the mumps in Cambridge that could not be connected to Harvard University.

Harvard University is promoting preventative tactics. Lindsey Baker, a spokeswoman of Harvard, said that the university urges students to remain vigilant as they wrap up the year to avoid spreading the infection.

“It’s hard to predict how it will go and how much exposure there is. It’s more just those events are coming up, so we just want people to take precautions.”

Baker, students, and other staff members at Harvard are worried the mumps outbreak will cause issues with the commencement. If there is another spike in the outbreak after the recent isolation of more students, it means there are more being infected and spreading the virus. The closer it gets to the commencement, officials may have to ask hard questions regarding whether or not having the commencement and other celebrations is in the best interest of the community of Harvard as it will require everyone to be in close quarters which increases the risk of exposure.

Unfortunately, Harvard students are not alone in this mumps outbreak. Massachusetts has had 12 confirmed cases of mumps across the entire state this year not including the 40 cases at Harvard. Two of these cases were confirmed at UMass Boston and one was confirmed at Bentley University in Waltham.

The longer an individual is in close proximity to someone with the virus, the more likely they are to contract the virus as well. This is true even if you are fully vaccinated against it.

Infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, Dr. William Schaffner, claims that colleges and universities like Harvard have been the center point for many mumps outbreaks. He went on to say the source of these outbreaks, including the one at Harvard, are students coming from the European Union as it does not require mumps vaccinations.

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