Since the MMR vaccine’s big debut in 1967, the U.S. saw the rate of mumps cases decline by 99 percent, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. Nonetheless, mumps have recently made a comeback on college campuses, including those in Philadelphia and in the greater PA area. The outbreak hit Temple University the hardest.
Between February and March, over 100 students at Temple have been affected by mumps–the viral infection that affects the salivary glands. Temple is the only school in Philly that does not require incoming freshman to have the MMR vaccine, which is 88 percent effective in preventing mumps. However, most infected students had actually received the vaccine when they were children, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Nonetheless, the vaccine only lasts between 10 and 15 years. Therefore, by the time one goes to college, the vaccine has sometimes worn off. A booster shot can usually restore full immunity, according to health officials.
In 2017, Pennsylvania State University encountered a mumps outbreak as well. The 40 cases that it faced now seem miniscule in comparison to the number reported at Temple. Unlike Temple University, colleges and universities in Lancaster County, such as Franklin & Marshall College, Millersville University, and Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, do require incoming freshman to have been vaccinated. On the other hand, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College only require students pursuing health career programs to get the MMR vaccine.
Mumps are spread through saliva and mucus, according to the Pennsylvania Immunization Coalition, Therefore, sneezing, coughing, sharing drinks and food and living in close proximity to others are a few ways in which one can acquire the infection. As a result, college students are more susceptible to becoming infected than are other demographic groups. The incubation period for mumps can last between 12 and 25 days. Students can be contagious for over three weeks without even realizing it. The Coalition says that common symptoms include loss of appetite, fever, muscle aches, headaches, and swollen glands under the ears or jaw. Although rare today, mumps can also lead to deafness, meningitis, and encephalitis—the swelling of the brain. Sterility and inflammation of the testicles and ovaries can occur in some cases as well.
In response to the outbreak, Temple held two free walk-in clinics at the end of March. The clinics provided students who had never been vaccinated with two doses of the MMR vaccine. It also offered students who had been previously vaccinated with a third booster dose. Nearly 1,000 booster doses have been delivered since the start of the outbreak, according to Mark Denys, Temple’s director of student and employee health services. However, despite the vaccines and boosters, around five new cases are arising each day.
Temple University has decided to change its policy. It will now require incoming freshman to obtain the MMR vaccine prior to the start of school. For now, officials such as Steven Alles—director of disease control for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health—are encouraging those infected to limit contact with their peers, and to get lots of rest.