Highlight on Nebraska: Mumps outbreak spreads as college students head home for summer

A mumps outbreak centered at Midland University in Fremont, Nebraska, has spread to six counties as university students went home for the summer before developing symptoms. The school of 1,300 students reported 10 cases of mumps to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in May, all affecting students enrolled at Midland. Health care providers in the state received a health advisory about the outbreak, and were asked to report suspected new mumps cases to their local health departments.

By the end of May, the number of mumps cases had more than doubled to 21 reported cases, spreading from Fremont in Dodge county to Cass, Douglas, Hall, Madison and Platte counties as Midland students returned home for the summer and began experiencing symptoms. DHHS’ State Epidemiologist, Dr. Tom Safranek, said that due to the highly contagious nature of the mumps virus, there is potential for the outbreak to continue to spread. He noted the importance of “aggressive isolation” of individuals exhibiting mumps symptoms for a period of five days after the onset of symptoms.

Mumps is caused by the mumps virus, and is an acute viral illness. Its best-known symptom is swollen salivary glands, but also commonly causes fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite. Complications can include swelling of the testicles or ovaries, deafness, inflammation of the brain and/or tissue covering the brain and spinal cord (encephalitis/meningitis) and, rarely, death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been a 99 percent decrease in mumps outbreaks in the United States since the introduction of the MMR vaccine, which inocculates against measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles). The vaccine is typically given to children in two doses, with additional vaccinations given to university students and adults who do not have evidence of protection.

The Nebraska DHHS said that the mumps virus is most contagious for the three days before and five days after their symptoms begin; symptoms can appear 12 to 25 days after infection, with most appearing after 16 to 18 days .To prevent the spread of mumps:

  • Always cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze
  • Wash hands frequently
  • Dispose of used tissues and other similar objects appropriately
  • Do not share glasses, eating utensils, water bottles, etc.

Individuals who are not sure of their immunity should contact a physician to determine whether they are protected and, if necessary, arrange for vaccination. The vaccine will not cure mumps in an individual who has already contracted the virus, but can prevent its spread. It is particularly important for individuals who attend Midland University or have been in contact with Midland University students to check their health status. Health care workers should also check their protected status to avoid additional transmission of the virus as they tend to infected individuals.