After diagnosing 7 mumps cases, UT now on lookout for more

An email sent to the UT student body warns of the mumps outbreak discovered the week of July 10, 2017. (KXAN/Chris Davis)
An email sent to the UT student body warns of the mumps outbreak discovered the week of July 10, 2017. (KXAN/Chris Davis)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – More people are getting tested for mumps on the University of Texas at Austin campus, University Health Services said on its website.

This comes after seven people were diagnosed on campus in the last week, according to the student health services website. It’s part of the worst mumps trend in Texas in more than two decades.

Working on applications for medical school in the empty student services building on a rainy Saturday, Belle Parizot wasn’t all that worried.

“I just saw mumps and I was like, ‘OK,'” she said. “‘Good to know.'”

She got the email sent to the entire student body Friday. “They’re basically alerting us about the mumps on campus,” she said.

“While mumps is no longer a very common illness in the U.S.,” the email reads, “outbreaks can occur.”

It goes on to note any students identified to have had potential exposure to the virus will be contacted individually.

“Potentially exposed individuals could include those enrolled in classes with the infected students and their instructors, students living in the same on-campus residence hall, and other significant contacts,” the email reads.

The student newspaper, the Daily Texan, interviewed at least one student who had already gotten a notification email like that, saying the exposure came from someone the student shared a class with.

The virus is spread through droplets, “in the saliva, and through sneezing and coughing,” Brenna Allsuch, a registered nurse at the After Hours Kids clinic in Austin, said. “And it can also live on a surface, and if that surface is touched and the person touches their face they can transmit it.”

Allsuch said the clinic doesn’t really see mumps cases thanks to the vaccine developed in the 1960s.

The number of mumps cases in Texas has been rising sharply, though. Data from the Department of State Health Services show from 2005-2015, the highest number of cases the state saw was 121 in 2010, with most years ranging between 15 and 50 cases.

So far this year, though, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports Texas has already surpassed 300 cases. State health leaders said in April, with 221 cases diagnosed, it was the worst year for mumps in more than two decades.

“If four or five people aren’t vaccinated,” though, Allsuch said, “it will spread like wildfire amongst those under- or un-vaccinated people.”

The vaccine won’t prevent the virus from taking hold every time, but most doctors agree it’s still the best way to keep it from spreading. Adults can also get vaccine boosters if they’re worried they never got the mumps immunization.

You can also protect yourself by washing your hands well and avoiding contact with people who might have it.

Early symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and appetite loss, Allsuch said, followed by swelling of the salivary glands leading to the hallmark symptom of a large swollen mass on one side of the neck.

“There’s no treatment because it’s a virus,” she said, “but sort of quarantining yourself, keeping away from other people [if you’re infected] can help slow the transmission.”

Parizot, the future medical student, didn’t concern herself too much with the possibility of the outbreak.

“After a while you’re just like, ‘Okay, taking note of the mumps,'” she said, “and then you kind of continue on with your day.”

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