The University of Missouri is hoping the looming Thanksgiving break could provide relief from a mumps outbreak that has grown to 31 confirmed and 27 probable cases on the Columbia campus.
The numbers reported Wednesday for the outbreak were almost double the 17 cases that had been confirmed last week. But the good news is that students will begin heading home for a weeklong holiday break after classes end Friday.
“We are hoping that that really alleviates the numbers we are seeing from this particular outbreak,” Mary Jo Banken, a spokeswoman for the university, said Thursday. “We are all crossing our fingers on it for sure.”
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist said the exodus of students to their far-flung hometowns for the holiday break shouldn’t necessarily pose concerns to those communities. Dr. Manisha Patel, of the CDC’s Division of Viral Diseases, said Wednesday that crowded campus settings, specifically in dormitories, and the common behaviors that take place in those confined conditions – sharing of bathrooms, dining together, kissing – promote the transmission of the virus more than household settings.
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Patel also believes “high coverage rates” nationwide by mumps vaccines will limit the transmission of the virus.
“We’ve seen that before – outbreaks on campus, the students go on break, and the outbreak on campus starts to decrease,” Patel told The Associated Press. “Once they disperse, that setting of intense exposure no longer is there to keep that virus moving.”
The university is among several across the nation – Harvard and Tufts among them – that has grappled with mumps outbreaks this year.
Although mumps outbreaks haven’t been common in the U.S. since routine vaccinations began, there has been a rise this year, according to the CDC. As of last month, 2,345 mumps cases had been reported nationwide for the year – more than twice as many as in all of 2015.
Mumps often starts with fever, fatigue and body aches. Those infected are urged to stay home, cover their mouths and noses when coughing or sneezing, and frequently wash their hands.
All of the students with confirmed or probable cases at Missouri have received the required two doses of a vaccine that protects against mumps, as well as measles and rubella, Banken said. She added that some of the sickened students live in the residence halls, although most live off campus.
“We are really hoping we get a break in this,” she said.