Contagious outbreak hits University of Illinois

By Sammie Lisberg, @sblisberg_DE

Since last year, more than 100 cases of mumps have been reported at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. This includes nearly 50 previous cases in 2014 and 68 reported cases since Jan. 1.

Dr. Ted Grace, director of SIU Student Health Services, said mumps is spread just like any other virus. It starts with symptoms similar to an upper respiratory disease such as a low grade fever and sneezing. Symptoms of mumps also include the blockage of salivary glands and pain in the jaw.

“Once you have been exposed, it takes somewhere between two to three weeks to fully develop the disease, and only a few days to become contagious,” Grace said. “People can be infectious before they show symptoms and not know it. From there they can affect people around them.”

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Students at Illinois universities are required to have childhood vaccinations to be eligible to enroll in classes. Beginning as early as two months old, the state requires certain vaccines before children enter any child care programs or schooling, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. 

Grace said two sets are required; one set for diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus; the other for measles, mumps and rubella.

“The immunity to mumps does not seem to last a lifetime,” Grace said. “It is waning away with time and the CDC may have to help out in the future. Although most local students do come in with these immunizations, some students do not have access to these vaccines — specifically international students.” 

Dr. Robert Palinkas, director of Student Health Services at the University of Illinois said the school has established a free clinic where students, faculty and staff are able to get a third booster of the M.M.R. vaccine.

“Efforts to contain the current mumps outbreak at this point continue to be focused on prevention,” Palinkas said in a press release.

By using a third M.M.R. vaccination, the university can enhance herd immunity. 

University of Illinois is also suggesting to stay away from large crowds.

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“Isolation and encouragement of social distancing are the other important tools at work at this time,” Palinkas said in the release. “Additional potential restrictive or isolative measures are considered on a case-by-case basis.”

A two-day clinic last week at University of Illinois brought in more than 4,500 students, faculty and staff, according to the health center.

With highly attended events frequently happening, the possibility of mumps coming to southern Illinois and the university exists.

“The best thing to do is to not share anything that has saliva,” said Karen Brown, director of nursing for the Jackson County Health Department. “The primary way to contact mumps is by sharing drinks, cigarettes, utensils and anything that comes in direct contact with saliva.”

Personal hygiene can go a long way to keeping you and your body safe from this disease. You can keep your immune system strong by getting plenty of rest, eating right and exercising.

As of now, southern Illinois and the university have not seen an outbreak, but it is not unusual to see an increase in diseases like mumps.

“Right now we do not see any cases,” Grace said. “But there is a good chance we can get some. It is all around us. We may see some cases in the future, but we will do whatever it takes to protect the southern Illinois community. “

Sammie Lisberg can be reached at [email protected]

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