An ongoing outbreak of mumps at Temple University in Philadelphia has prompted more than 2,000 students to receive vaccinations or booster shots.
“These happen at universities across the country — not frequently — but it’s not unusual,” said James Garrow, the spokesperson for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.
Mumps is commonly spread through “close personal contact” and “sharing things that have saliva on them,” Garrow said, noting that situations where large groups of students are living, eating and drinking together make them prime for an outbreak.
Garrow said that the department sent its first health alert about the outbreak to the medical community in Philadelphia on March 1.
Mumps is one of the three diseases that the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccine protects against. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends each person receive two doses: the first when a child is between 12 and 15 months old and the second dose between 4 and 6 years old. Students at post-high school educational institutions who have not been immunized should get two doses of the MMR vaccine, separated by at least 28 days, and adults who have not been immunized should get at least one MMR shot, according to the CDC.
Garrow said that even after completing those doses, it's still possible to get infected by the mumps virus because the MMR vaccine is “excellent” for protecting against measles and rubella but only “really good” for protecting against the mumps, with a slightly lower immunity rate.
As such, the CDC recommends that anyone who is at risk of being exposed to mumps get a third booster vaccine. Temple University has been facilitating these boosters this week through vaccine drives on Wednesday and Friday.
The school released a statement calling Wednesday’s vaccine clinic “a tremendous success, with 2,285 vaccines administered.”
Many colleges and universities have long required incoming freshman to provide records showing that they had received two doses of the MMR vaccine — this was not the policy at Temple until this outbreak began, Garrow said. The school released a statement announcing its updated vaccination requirements on March 22, though it noted that they were not finalized.
“The policy is still under development. The goal is to draft the policy over the summer for rollout next academic year. The university fully expects the policy to be in accordance with best practices and applicable law. And accordingly, the university expects avenues for appropriate opt-out that will be spelled out when the policy is final,” the statement read.
As for the remainder of the outbreak, Garrow said that officials are "expecting it to continue," due in part to mumps' taking as many as three weeks to become symptomatic.
"The best way to stop the spread of mumps is for people who have those symptoms and feel sick to stay away from other people," Garrow said, urging students to "wipe down surfaces" and "don't share cups."