Contagious concern

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I heard about the mumps outbreak in the U.S. and some colleges. Is there anything I can do besides worry?

With several U.S. universities reporting mumps outbreaks, parents and students alike are right to be concerned. Mumps is a contagious disease with unpleasant symptoms that will take you out of the classroom and, in some cases, lead to serious complications. But there are precautions that you and your college can take to keep your risk for exposure at a minimum.

Mumps is a virally initiated disease that is contracted by close personal contact, saliva and nasal secretions. It typically begins with a few days of fever, tiredness, headaches, dental pain, muscle aches, and loss of appetite, followed by swollen salivary glands.

These flu-like symptoms commonly appear around two weeks after contracting the virus. It is during this period that you are most likely to pass it on to someone else.

Antibiotics are ineffective against Mumps because it is a virus, so self-treatment is usually applied. Over the counter painkillers can reduce the fever and plenty of rest can alleviate the fatigue. Eating a soft diet such as soups and yogurts is also recommended to reduce pain in salivary glands, and avoid acidic foods and drinks. Some research suggests a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, cpap, can alleviate symptoms of Mumps.

The disease usually runs its course in a couple of weeks, after ten days you should start feeling better. Once you have had the virus your immune system will protect you from future outbreaks.

If you are concerned that it is going around campus, there are a few ways to protect yourself. Mumps can be prevented if you have been vaccinated, so you should contact student health services to find out whether you had two doses of the MMR vaccine before your first birthday. The Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine is usually administered to children before they attend school, the first shot at between 12 and 15 months and the second between 4 and 6 years. Reports show that the vaccination protects 85% of people from the disease.

Your medical records will show your vaccination history, your parents should also have access to this information. If you have not had it, then you should schedule an appointment to receive the vaccination. Many colleges will exclude students that are infected or do not have the vaccinations.

For those that have yet to determine their vaccination status, you should wash your hands frequently and avoid close contact with other students during an outbreak. Respiratory etiquette is also necessary to hinder the spread of the disease. Always cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing, whether you have the virus or not. As we know the infectious period is up to two weeks before you show any symptoms.

Mumps is an unpleasant affliction but there is no reason to worry. Colleges will have medical advice for students during outbreaks when extra hygiene vigilance will be required. To put your mind at rest, find out if you have had the vaccination and get an appointment for one if you need it.

Each patient carries his own doctor inside him… Norman Cousins.

Written by Suzanne Hite, former publications editor serving the technology services sector.