Student recovers from mumps

by Paulomi Rao | 7/13/17 8:50pm

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The affected student contracted the disease from Keble College at Oxford University and has since recovered.

Source: Ioana Solomon/The Dartmouth Staff

College medical health providers confirmed through a July 4 email statement to campus that there was a case of mumps among undergraduate students. Dick’s House staff and health providers at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center worked with state health officials to ensure the affected student was isolated to prevent a potential outbreak on campus.

The affected student, an exchange student from Keble College at Oxford University, was surprised at first by the diagnosis. Mumps, a contagious disease caused by a virus, typically begins with a few days of fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness and loss of appetite, followed by swollen salivary glands.

This past spring, approximately 30 students at Oxford were reported to have mumps, though only one was a student at Keble College. The affected student was reportedly never in close contact with infected students at Oxford and had previously received both mumps shots. The student reported not feeling any symptoms until the second week of classes this summer.

According to Ann Bracken, director of clinical medical services at the College health service, a person can have mumps without showing symptoms.

The student woke up feeling glandular pain, but did not think it was serious. After 24 hours of fever-like symptoms and jaw pain, the student called Safety and Security for a ride to DHMC. 

“Two nurses came in to see me and did all the preliminary observations by prodding my neck, and then they went away for a bit,” the student said. “Fifteen minutes later they came back with a mask on, and everyone after that point was wearing a mask.”

Nurses on call initially believed the student could have a range of illnesses, including everything from a simple gland infection to mumps. After being formally diagnosed with mumps, the student was released from DHMC and driven back to campus by a Safety and Security officer. Both the officer and the affected student were instructed to wear masks. The affected student was then moved from a triple dorm in Topliff to a single room and isolated for around five days. Initially, the affected student said the isolation was challenging. The student only missed two classes because of the July 4 holiday.

“If I had been like, ‘I have no friends [to the doctors] and I need you to bring me food,’ I think [Safety and Security] would have brought me food,” the affected student said. “But as it stood, the various people I have made friends with since getting here and my roommate from Oxford all ended up bringing me food.”

The affected student thinks that the scare of mumps is sometimes overdramatized around campuses.

“It was a bit grim, but it wasn’t that bad,” the student said. “I know it can be serious if you aren’t vaccinated or for young kids, but for me, and I imagine for most people our age and in relatively good fitness, I’ve had bouts of tonsillitis that have been worse.”

Students across campus were advised via email to seek medical treatment if they had concerns about their health.

There have been recent mumps cases across the Northeast at college campuses over the last few years, Bracken said. Medical providers at Dartmouth are required to report illnesses such as mumps to state officials, who make recommendations regarding care options, she said.

Currently, all students attending Dartmouth are required to have a measles, mumps and rubella vaccine in order to register for classes, but some students can have a religious or medical exemption that prohibit them from receiving the vaccination, Bracken said.

According to Bracken, the vaccination still does not completely protect students from contacting mumps. Generally, one vaccination is 78 percent effective, so the vaccines are often administered in a two-part series, at least 28 days apart. In the United States, the vaccinations are administered after a child’s first birthday and after age 5, Bracken said.

“If students don’t have measles or mumps [vaccines] they may be asked to leave campus if we have an outbreak,” Bracken said. “I actually asked the state, ‘How many cases do we need for it to be considered an outbreak?’ They said it depends on the nature of the illness when to use the word ‘outbreak,’ and we aren’t there yet.”

Each year, students who are exempt from the vaccination sit down with Bracken before matriculating to discuss potential options if an outbreak does occur on campus. According to Bracken, unvaccinated students often end up receiving vaccinations if they decide to study abroad in a country where there is an increased risk of getting serious illnesses. Others receive vaccinations after being warned by medical providers at Dick’s House that they might be asked to leave campus for a few days until the last case of an illness has receded.

“No students were asked to leave yet this sophomore summer, and we don’t have an outbreak,” Bracken said. “Thankfully, most people don’t die from mumps. And the more serious cases of mumps we do not see.”

When the case was confirmed, the Student Wellness Center helped Dick’s House spread information to limit a potential outbreak through the Stall Street Journal, a flyer distributed on the back of restroom stalls across campus.

Assistant director for health improvement Mary Nyhan said that while the Stall Street Journal is not unique to Dartmouth, the informal tone is purposeful.

“What we have realized is shock, awe and scare tactics are typically not the best way to get the information across to college students,” Nyhan said. “Other than that, something like the mumps is very episodic and the folks at Dick’s House reach out to us.”