| 03.18.2018

Guest Voice: What to know about mumps — Students can take steps to avoid this contagious virus


With the recent outbreak of mumps in Washington, which is extremely close to the University of Idaho, it is important to be aware and wary of this contagious virus. Reported on Jan. 18, there were 235 cases of mumps reported in Washington. Most of the cases were from King County, and the closest county to Moscow, Spokane, had 58 cases.

Mumps is a contagious virus that can be spread through saliva, nasal secretions and close contact. This virus mainly affects the parotid glands, commonly known as the salivary glands. The salivary glands are on each side of the face, located under the ear. The telltale sign of mumps is when these glands swell. People with mumps may look like they have a version of “chipmunk cheeks.” Other symptoms include body aches, fatigue, headache and loss of appetite.

These symptoms will usually appear within two weeks of the initial exposure of the virus. Soon after the flu-like symptoms described above arise, a fever might occur, and then the slow process of the painful swelling of the salivary glands. Most people show most of the symptoms of the virus, however, there are some cases where no or few symptoms show.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, transmission of the virus occurs quickly. It is contagious from the moment someone comes into contact with the virus. An easy way to contract mumps is simply by being around people for an extended amount of time who may have the virus, but are not yet showing symptoms. Exposure may occur in a classroom, on a sports team or in a living area.

Mumps, and other viruses, can spread through kissing, sharing beverages, sharing lip balm or any other activity where saliva is shared. As college students, we are around many people daily, and in confined areas at times. It is important we are being cautious of personal hygiene, and able to recognize signs of potential viruses.

The best way to prevent the mumps is getting the vaccination. The vaccination for mumps is called MMR, which also protects you from measles and rubella.

While the vaccine is highly effective, it is still possible to get sick, so practicing good hygiene is also important. Students should wash their hands with warm water and soap frequently, after sneezing or coughing, before preparing food, after using the restroom, etc. It can also be helpful to disinfect surface areas in class and around living spaces. When covering your mouth while sneezing or coughing, use your elbow or tissue instead of your hands. Also if you are feeling sick, stay home and rest. Do not share eating utensils, cups or other objects that touch your mouth.

Finally, contact the Student Health Clinic or primary care provider if symptoms get worse, are more than you can handle or your fever exceeds 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If you suspect you may have mumps, call the doctor’s office before visiting to decrease your chance of exposing others to the illness.

Mumps isn’t incredibly common, but outbreaks do occur, as seen in Washington. Make sure to keep washing your hands and practicing proper hygiene. If you have not received your MMR vaccine, please contact our local Idaho North Central District Public Health office at 208-882-7506.

Sarah Graham is a Vandal Health Education peer mentor and can be reached at vandalhealthed@uidaho.edu

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