Mumps cases rise as epidemic spreads

By Bridget Maiellaro

Over the past several weeks, the mumps epidemic has continued to spread across the nation. On April 14, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced that the state has 35 confirmed cases and 37 probable cases of the disease, which is much higher than usual.

“We’re still looking into the determining factors of the outbreak,” said Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health. “We used to only have 10 to 15 cases in one year.”

University High School, a Laboratory School of Illinois State University located in Normal, Ill., is one of the many schools currently dealing with probable cases of mumps.

“We have no confirmation at this point,” said Cathy Troyer, school nurse at University High School. “It’s still probable.”

The Laboratory Schools, including University High School and Thomas Metcalf Middle School, were notified of a suspected case of the illness on March 5. These students, like all Illinois students, are required to have both doses of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine.

“The vaccine is only about 95 percent effective,” Arnold said. “Five percent of the population is not going to be effected by it.”

Troyer said she is unsure how the illness came to Illinois, but feels it could have come from Iowa, where rates of mumps are high, or other surrounding states.

“We live in such a mobile society,” she said. “There are no boundaries between or borders across the world, let alone our own country. It could happen with any illness.”

As of April 17, there were 815 confirmed, probable and suspected cases of mumps in Iowa, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

“We used to see about five cases a month,” said Kevin Teale, communications director of the Iowa Department of Public Health. “At the tail-end of December we realized we had a situation on our hands.”

College students in Iowa account for about 20 to 25 percent of the reported cases of the infection, and half of the cases are people ages 17 to 25, Teale said.

Teale said that while the media has focused around the cases at the University of Iowa, a larger number of cases are found at smaller colleges in Dubuque, Iowa.

“The college environment is a perfect situation for infectious disease, especially mumps,” Teale said. “It’s shared through saliva, so students can get it by living so close together, coughing, sneezing, sharing drinks and kissing. It tends to spread fairly easily.”

Arnold, however, said students in Illinois are not at risk any more than everyone else in the state.

“In Illinois, we don’t see that (mumps is) after students any more than any other age group,” Arnold said. “It doesn’t skew heavily in any particular age group.”

Arnold said she does not expect changes in the future.

“We expect to see more cases,” Arnold said. “There is really no indication that the rate will drop. We’re just not sure about how many or how soon.”

Mumps is a viral illness spread by saliva contact and airborne respiratory droplets, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health. Symptoms include fever, headache and swollen salivary glands.

Although mumps is generally mild, severe complications include inflammation of the brain, testicles, ovaries and breasts; spontaneous abortion; and deafness, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.