UNC-CH student might have the mumps, university says in alert

UNC-Chapel Hill officials say one of the university’s students “is being tested for a probable case of the mumps,” a once-common childhood infectious disease that’s considerably rarer these days because of vaccination programs but remains far from being eradicated.

In announcing the move via the university’s campus security-alert system, they said the student involved “lives off campus” and that they think the risk “to the general population” of contracting mumps is low. But they noted that the mumps can take anywhere from about two weeks to nearly a month to show up after a person contracts it.

That means if the student actually has the disease and spread it to others, their symptoms would likely show up between May 7 and May 23, UNC officials said.

Many possible symptoms of the mumps — fever, muscle aches, tiredness, loss of appetite, headaches — are similar to those of colds and the flu, and so are the ways it spreads. But mumps sufferers commonly also experience swelling of the salivary glands under their cheeks and jaw.

Those developing such symptoms, especially the swelling, should stay home and away from others, and call Campus Health Services (919-966-6573), UNC’s Employee Occupational Health Clinic (919-966-9119) or a doctor, UNC officials said, in a memo co-authored with Orange County Interim Health Director Dorothy Cilenti.

For now, officials “don’t have much more information” to release beyond what went into the 2:43 p.m. notice from the Alert Carolina system, university spokeswoman Joanne Peters said.

Federal health- and student-privacy rules meant they couldn’t share any details about the student, including even such basics as whether or not he or she is from North Carolina.

Mumps has some rare complications “known to occur more frequently among adults than children,” but death from the disease is “exceedingly rare,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says in a fact sheet for medical professionals. Recovery is generally complete in a few weeks.

A bout with the mumps was once a near-universal childhood experience in the U.S., but vaccination programs that began in the late 1960s have cut the incidence of it sharply. Still, the CDC says “a couple hundred to a couple thousand” cases surface each year, and outbreaks can spike the numbers even higher.

The federal health watchdog received reports of about 5,748 mumps cases in 2016, and through April 23 of this year had heard of 2,570 cases, according to a table in the CDC’s latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

College campuses are common hotspots. In recent years, the CDC’s recorded mumps outbreaks at institutions in Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, California, Virginia and Maryland.

The Illinois outbreak, at the University of Illinois’ Urbana-Champange campus, wound up causing 317 known cases of the mumps and triggered a move by health officials there to offer a third vaccination there to people who’d already received the standard two.

Vaccination, though effective, isn’t an absolute preventative. The CDC estimates that two doses are about 88 percent effective at blocking the mumps and that a single dose is about 78 percent effective.

Ray Gronberg: 919-419-6648, @rcgronberg