Searle Prepares For Possibility Of NU Mumps Outbreak

Laura Schocker

By Laura SchockerThe Daily Northwestern

Searle Student Health Service is preparing for a potential mumps epidemic at Northwestern after identifying a possible case on campus.

The disease struck the Midwest in April, starting in Iowa and spreading to about 5,000 documented cases. It has been especially prevalent on college campuses, most recently at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill. Several cases have been documented in Evanston.

“It’s hard to imagine we won’t get it,” said Dr. Donald Misch, executive director of Searle.

All NU students are required to get a mumps vaccine before or during the first quarter of their freshman year. One vaccination protects against 80 percent of cases and two protects against 90 percent of cases, although Illinois law and NU policy only require one shot for admission.

“The majority of the people in the outbreak had been immunized,” Misch said. “Way too many people are coming down with the mumps, and something’s not very well understood.”

Until experts can fully assess the magnitude of the outbreak, Misch said Searle is joining the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in recommending that everyone receive a second vaccine. Students can get a measles, mumps and rubella vaccine at Searle for $52, and an appointment is recommended.

Mumps symptoms include common ailments such as weakness, fever and muscle aches.

“Most of the symptoms are the typical non-specific ones,” Misch said. “The thing that everyone looks for is swelling of the salivary glands.”

This swelling is frequently described as “chipmunk cheeks,” where someone looking head-on at mumps victims will not be able to see their earlobes or the angle of their jaws.

If students believe they have the mumps, Misch said, they should come into Searle for an evaluation.

Mumps usually does not have any long-term health consequences, but if the disease is suspected, students will be isolated for nine days.

“This isn’t just about you,” Misch said. “You will present a risk to others.”

NU’s close conditions also present a risk to students, Misch said.

“They’re crowded together in a way that makes them more susceptible to disease,” Misch said. “A lot of the outbreaks so far have been amongst college students.”

Mumps is transmitted by direct contact, like the flu, and Misch recommended students take normal precautions to avoid spreading the disease.

In addition to updated immunizations, he said, students should cover their mouths and noses while sneezing and coughing, avoid sharing plates and utensils, and keep distance from people experiencing symptoms.

Many students said they are prepared for an NU outbreak.

“I was immunized when I was a child, but I understand that this doesn’t protect me completely,” said Melissa Ammann, a Weinberg junior. “It’s been going on for a while, and it doesn’t seem like it will be easily stopped.”

Ammann, from Iowa City, Iowa, said her brother was a student at the University of Iowa when the outbreak began.

“It wasn’t widespread fear, but more a sense of disbelief,” Ammann said. “I would hope that it would be contained earlier if it came to Northwestern since it’s not a surprise. But you never know.”

Other students said they trust that any disease on campus will be controlled.

“I’m not too concerned,” said Weinberg sophomore Alia Samhat. “I’m sure health services will take care of the spread.”

“I guess it’d be given a good excuse to take a lot of days off,” she said.

Reach Laura Schocker at [email protected]