Freshman diagnosed with mumps

by Beacon Staff • September 26, 2007

David Rosen, vice president of public affairs, said the student's blood tests came back negative for mumps but that more tests will be conducted throughout October to be certain of negative results.,E-mail and e-campus warnings went out this week after an Emerson freshman who was diagnosed with the mumps was quarantined for nine days on the fourth floor of the Little Building.

David Rosen, vice president of public affairs, said the student's blood tests came back negative for mumps but that more tests will be conducted throughout October to be certain of negative results. Boston and Massachusetts health officials were notified and lab tests were ordered after the student's initial diagnosis, he said.

The student was current on her measles, mumps, and rubella shots at the time of her diagnosis. Jane Powers, director of the Health and Wellness Center, said that despite the negative test results, the student's symptoms met the clinical definition of mumps for more than two days.

When that happens, a diagnosis of mumps is declared without a positive blood test. The initial source of the virus in the Emerson student's case is unknown.

The student said she visited Emerson's Health and Wellness Center where she was immediately diagnosed with mumps due to the intensity of her symptoms. She was then placed in a single-bed isolation room in the Little Building with no visitation allowed except by Health Center workers.

The student's quarantine ended yesterday and she is now back in class, she said.

She said she was distraught by coverage of her in the Boston Herald and local television news, but understood the need to inform the public.

Mumps is a contagious disease spread through exchange of saliva, such as kissing or sharing tissues, food, beverages or cigarettes and is not airborne. The most common symptom is swelling of the cheeks and jaw due to inflammation of one or both of the saliva glands. According to the American College Health Association, mumps kills two or three people out of every 1,000 cases.

The student said the swelling in her neck has abated.

The class of 2011, the first class for which Emerson has required two shots each of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations before coming to school, is also the first Emerson class to have a mumps scare, Powers said. The Boston Department of Public Health recommended the extra vaccinations after a 698-person mumps outbreak at The University of Iowa and Iowa State University in 2005.

One dose of the vaccine is 80 percent effective while two are between 90 and 95 percent effective, according to the Boston Department of Public Health.

"Immunization is strictly enforced," Rosen said. "Proof has to be filed that the student was immunized before they come to school."

Powers said students who aren't exempt from vaccinations for medical or religious reasons, including 11 of the symptomatic student's classmates, have until Sunday to get immunized.

Powers said it is especially difficult to make students aware of the rare disease.

"It's not an everyday occurrence for students," Powers said. "The frequency of vaccination failure is not that high. It's not like this is something people have to be afraid of."

The disease concerned sophomore musical theater major Mary Cait Gilson, she said, because she lives in the Little Building and is performing in an Emerson Mainstage show next month.

"Of course I would be worried about getting mumps with the show, but I really didn't think it was a realistic outcome since I have my mumps shot," she said. "I really think the administration did all they could have done to warn us. Maybe they should have told the staff to warn us as well."

Fellow musical theater major Chris DeVita said he didn't get the e-mail warnings and only heard about the scare through rumors.

"It was considerably frightening because I didn't even think mumps was real, or even something that anyone could still get," DeVita, a sophomore, said. "I mean who diagnosed her? The Health and Wellness Center?"

Powers said a majority of students at Emerson have already received two vaccinations and were not in close contact with the infected person's saliva. However, she stressed that no vaccine is completely effective.

She said the Office of Housing and Residence Life leaves several dormitory rooms empty for ill students. Health center workers brought the student her meals and center staff checked on her daily.

"Try and put yourself in her place, being kept away from your friends for seven days," she said. "Those who only have one MMR shot, I strongly suggest you consider getting a second one as soon as possible."