Temple University in Philadelphia has reported 74 cases of mumps in an outbreak that began last month, according to a notification sent to the university community on Thursday.
Mark Denys, director of student and employee health services, said 15 of those cases are confirmed and 59 are probable. Forty-six of those cases have been identified in the last eight days.
The university said it is working with the local health department to contain the outbreak.
Mumps is a vaccine-preventable disease that is caused by a virus. It is spread through saliva or mucus by coughing, sneezing or talking or sharing eating utensils or cups, according to the CDC.
It can also spread when an infected person touches items or surfaces that are then touched by someone else who picks up the virus.
Outbreaks usually occur among people who have close contact, such as on college campuses and among sports teams.
Symptoms can appear 12 to 25 days after a person is infected and can include fever, headache, muscle aches, being tired and loss of appetite. The hallmark, though, is swollen glands under the ears that are tender. But not everyone has symptoms, especially if they are experiencing a mild case of the illness.
“One of the most important steps you can take if you experience symptoms is to self-isolate, avoid travel and limit contact with others for five days from the onset of symptoms,” the notification said. Denys also reminded people to cover their mouths when coughing, wash hands frequently, and avoid sharing food and drink.
The best way to prevent mumps is with a vaccine. According to the CDC, the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is 88% effective when two doses are given.
The university advises anyone who has not received two doses of the vaccine and a booster to get vaccinated now. This is not required, but is a “strong recommendation,” Ray Betzner, associate vice president for strategic marketing and communications at Temple, said in an email. “We are encouraging those who have had the two MMR vaccines to get the booster.”
According to a fact sheet from the City of Philadelphia Department of Public Health, “A third dose can boost protection during an outbreak and help stop the virus from spreading.”
There will be two free vaccination clinics at the university next week for students, faculty and staff.
Dissatisfied with the response by the university, a group of students filed a petition on change.org to temporarily close the university to stop the outbreak, saying, “It is time that Temple takes the necessary action to halt the outbreak before this epidemic becomes unmanageable.” The petition, which has more than 10,000 signatures so far, says the outbreak makes the university “an unsafe environment for all students and faculty” and that this is especially true for those with autoimmune diseases. “The fact is, as long as Temple continues to stay open, and classes and activities continue to be held, this outbreak will not cease.” As of Friday afternoon the change.org petition was no longer available on the site.
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“We are not discussing closing due to mumps,” Betzner said. “The Philadelphia Health Department does not recommend closing the university [as] it will not stop the ongoing spread of mumps.” He said infectious disease experts, and other universities who have had mumps outbreaks, agree.
Denys said the university is “taking steps to” update its immunization policy to require two doses of MMR vaccine; two doses of the chickenpox vaccine; and one dose of tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis vaccine, known as Tdap.
As of February 28, 151 cases of mumps have been reported in the United States this year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2018, more than 2,000 cases were reported.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly described the recommendation for a booster dose of the MMR vaccine.