Mumps Outbreak Spreads at Illinois College

BySIRI NILSSON, ABC News Medical Unit

Sept. 20, 2006 — -- An outbreak of mumps at Wheaton College, outside Chicago, has spread. As of Tuesday, college officials and the DuPage County Health Department confirmed 19 cases, with another four under investigation.

Of those 19 stricken students, 10 have recovered and returned to class after a nine-day quarantine period, which the county health department requires.

This mumps outbreak is the worst to hit Illinois in 20 years, officials said.

Mumps is not always serious, but it can lead to deafness or meningitis.

Common symptoms are fever, headaches, muscle aches, fatigue, loss of appetite and swollen salivary glands.

If a person is vaccinated against mumps, the risk of getting the disease is usually very low. The Wheaton College Student Health Center is offering a measles, mumps, rubella vaccine (known as the MMR), or a booster vaccine to students.

Wheaton, a Christian liberal arts college, requires that all incoming students be vaccinated against the mumps, unless they have a religious objection. The college policies are consistent with Illinois state vaccination policies.

Since most of the students were vaccinated against the mumps, the outbreak has baffled health officials, said college spokeswoman Tiffany Self.

"We don't know how the outbreak started, and health officials don't know," said Self. "The health department is investigating, but they don't think they'll have any answers for days or weeks."

In the meantime, the school is reminding its on-campus students to stay clean and be careful. School officials have sent campus updates to students, faculty and staff, and have encouraged anyone who has not been immunized against mumps to get vaccinated.

Signs have been posted in bathrooms to remind students to wash their hands carefully.

Hand sanitizers have been installed around campus and outside the cafeteria. "We're supposed to wash our hands for the sake of students and staff," said Rachel Rienstra, a Wheaton College senior from Philadelphia.

Mumps can hit college staff and professors just as hard as it hits students.

"Professors with families are very concerned," Rienstra said. "I have a pregnant professor who warned us to tell her if we had been near anyone with mumps or had any symptoms because she doesn't want to infect her unborn baby."

The infection spreads through very close contact, so students in dormitories might be more likely to contract the mumps. The Wheaton outbreak "is mostly in the freshman dorms, since they're all so close together," said Rienstra.

Every Wheaton student who has or might have the mumps is going into a nine-day quarantine apartment "unless the students are local," said Self.

"Then we send them home. Mom and Dad might be more comforting than a solitary apartment," she said.

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