Mumps advisory hits two SC schools

December 05, 2018
CDC photo of boy with mumps
This picture from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows how mumps can cause jaw swelling.

Warnings have gone out to students and faculty at Clemson University and Tri-County Technical Collegeabout a confirmed case of mumps. Anybody who was at those schools between November 21 and 29 may have been exposed, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

That could include people from the Lowcountry. The period in question included the Clemson/University of South Carolina football game in Clemson Memorial Stadium. It seats more than 80,000 people and drew fans from across the state.

“It’s possible people in the Charleston area who were in Clemson at that time could have an issue,” said MUSC Children’s Health Division chief of Pediatric Critical Care Elizabeth Mack. “Mumps can be very serious or even potentially deadly.”

The rate of mumps infection in the U.S. went way down after a vaccine was developed in the late 1960s, but in recent years there have been outbreaks. The number of reported cases soared from 229 in 2012 to more than 6,300 in 2016. 

“Anti-vax stances are dangerous because vaccination is what keeps us safe from these deadly diseases. The CDC only recommends vaccines that are safe and effective for dangerous diseases,” Mack said. “The most important way to prevent infection with mumps is certainly vaccination. Vaccination typically is recommended between 12 and 15 months for the first and again at 4 to 6 years of age.”

Mumps is highly contagious. It can spread through saliva and respiratory secretions via kissing, sharing drinks, coughing, sneezing and other activities. “One of the most common symptoms of mumps is swelling of the parotid glands. It resembles chipmunk cheeks. Mumps is the only known cause of parotitis epidemics,” Mack said.

“Once that begins, folks are recommended to be in isolation, not exposed to other people, for 5 days. We do recommend verifying your vaccine status and getting vaccinated unless you are immunocompromised. People who are exposed to mumps should get vaccinated, though it is not likely to reduce complications or infection at that moment. ”

Some people who have the virus never know it. “A third of people either develop an upper respiratory infection or don’t get sick at all,” Mack said.

But the other 2/3 will feel sick. The incubation period can be two to four weeks, so you can be exposed without knowing it for quite a while.

“Complications include meningitis, other neurological problems. Males can develop sterility related to swelling in the testicles. You can also get swelling in joints in the body. It can really wreak havoc, and the unfortunate thing is there’s no antiviral or treatment. It’s just purely supportive care. The best treatment is prevention.”

Some people can’t be vaccinated, Mack said, because their immune systems are compromised due to cancer treatment or other conditions. “It’s up to us to support and provide herd immunity to those populations so that we don’t have outbreaks of these otherwise uncommon but dangerous preventable diseases."

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Helen Adams

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