— -- There have been 40 confirmed cases of the mumps at Harvard University, even though many of those infected were vaccinated.
The outbreak was first reported on Feb. 29 and public health officials confirmed today that the contagious disease had continued to spread though the Harvard community.
"This is really happening in congregate settings where people are in dormitories," Susan Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the Cambridge Public Health Department, told ABC News. "College campuses are the perfect storm, because students are sharing all kind so things, they're in close contact and going to parties."
The virus is spread through the saliva or mucus from the mouth, nose or throat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although most people are vaccinated against mumps at a young age through the MMR vaccine, the vaccination does not provide full protection. Two doses of the vaccine are approximately 88 percent effective at preventing mumps and one dose is 78 percent effective, according to the CDC.
Symptoms of the virus include fever, tiredness, muscle aches and swollen glands. In rare cases, severe complications including meningitis or inflammation of the ovaries or testicles can occur.
The longer a person is in proximity to an infected person, the more likely that individual will contract the disease, even if fully vaccinated.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt Univeristy, said in recent years colleges and universities have been at the center of many mumps outbreaks.
He said students from countries in the European Union, which do not require a mumps vaccination, have been the source of these outbreaks.
"Universities are a wonderful receptor site for young adults incubating mumps," he noted.
Dr. Paul Barreira, director of Harvard University Health Services, told the Harvard Crimson student newspaper he was concerned that the virus was continuing to spread after the school took measures to stop the infected students from being in contact with others.
"If there's a spike this week, that means those students expose others, so now we're looking at a potential serious interruption to commencement for students," Barreira told the student newspaper. "Students will get infected and then go into isolation."