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16 Confirmed Mumps Cases in Harvard Community

March 24, 2016

Sixteen mumps cases have been confirmed among Harvard University students in Cambridge since Feb. 29.  All students were fully immunized against the mumps prior to contracting the disease.

A measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine prevents most, but not all, cases of mumps. Even in a highly vaccinated population it is possible that some people will get the illness.  At Harvard, 99% of undergraduate students and 98% of graduate students meet all state immunization requirements.
To date, there have been no confirmed mumps cases in Cambridge residents who are not members of the Harvard community.  Nonetheless, a Cambridge resident outside of Harvard could be exposed to the mumps through close contact with an infected person.
The Cambridge Public Health Department, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and Harvard University Health Services have been working collaboratively since February to facilitate diagnosis and laboratory testing, dissemination of public health messaging, and contact tracing investigation.
Local health department staff have reached out to all students with suspect or confirmed cases of mumps to educate them about the illness, identify their close contacts, and try to determine how they may have been exposed to the virus.
Mumps is spread through saliva or mucus from the mouth, nose, or throat. An infected person can spread the virus by:
  • Coughing, sneezing, or talking.
  • Sharing items, such as cups or eating utensils, with others.
  • Touching objects or surfaces with unwashed hands that are then touched by others.
The infectious period of mumps is two days before to five days after the onset of salivary gland swelling. Other common symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite.
Local health officials and Harvard University continue to advise students who experience mumps symptoms to self-isolate until the end of this period to avoid spreading the virus to others. Harvard University has provided these students with temporary single-occupancy rooms to minimize exposure to others.
Residents who are concerned about mumps can reduce their risk of becoming ill by:
  • Getting vaccinated against the mumps.
    • People who have received two doses of the MMR vaccine are about nine times less likely to get mumps than unvaccinated people who have the same exposure to mumps virus.
    • If a vaccinated person does get mumps, they will likely have less severe illness than an unvaccinated person.
    • Most children and young adults have received at least 1 dose of the MMR vaccine.  Two doses of MMR vaccine are more effective than 1 dose. 
  • Always covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze
  • Washing hands frequently.
  • Disposing of used tissues and other similar objects appropriately.
  • Avoiding sharing glasses, eating utensils, water bottles, cigarettes, and makeup.
The source of the Harvard mumps outbreak has not been determined, but the pattern of transmission is similar to what has been observed on college campuses across the county.  The Cambridge investigation is primarily focused preventing the spread of the current outbreak.
In addition to the Harvard cluster, smaller mumps outbreaks have been occurring on other Boston-area college campuses. Since Jan. 1, state health officials have confirmed 30 cases of mumps in Massachusetts.
To learn more about the mumps, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mumps website: http://www.cdc.gov/mumps/index.html.
If you are a Cambridge resident and believe you have been exposed to mumps and have any symptoms, please refrain from public activities and contact your health care provider or the Cambridge Public Health Department, 617-665-3800.

Suzy Feinberg, MPH
Public Information Officer

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