With the number of mumps cases at SUNY New Paltz nearing 70 and the semester about to end, state and local health officials have coordinated a clinic to provide students with a third dose of the measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, vaccine on Tuesday and Wednesday. Three-thousand doses of MMR, together with needles and other supplies, were supplied by state officials, who coordinated with county and university health workers to deliver the vaccine booster free of charge. As of Tuesday morning, there were 69 confirmed or suspected cases of mumps on campus; the third vaccine dose is the recommended protocol for outbreaks of this extent.
The point-of-dispensing clinic, or POD, that was set up is a system that county health officials regularly drill to execute, according to Dr. Carol Smith, Ulster County Health Commissioner. It was enacted pursuant to guidelines issued through the Centers for Disease Control, which indicate that a third dose of the vaccine may be used to curtail contagion when more than five out of 1,000 people have gotten the mumps and they live in close contact, such as a college campus. While 147 cases have been reported thus far this year in the state — the highest number since 2010 — this protocol has only been used here on the New Paltz campus to date.
Mumps was first reported on campus in October, when several members of the swim team fell prey to the disease. It has an incubation period of up to 26 days, not every infected person gets symptoms, and even those that do are generally contagious two days before presenting. Mumps is spread through saliva and respiratory particles, and is a virulent disease that can survive on surfaces, including eating utensils and drinking cups, making it easy to catch in close quarters. There is no treatment other than pain management for the infection, and patients are advised to avoid contact with other people for at least five days after coming down with it.
Transmission can also be reduced by avoiding such activities as sharing cups and utensils, as well as washing hands and common surfaces.
Proof of two doses of MMR are required for attendance at any state college, according to Brad Hutton, state deputy health commissioner, with exceptions granted for medical or religious reasons. No philosophical exemption is available in New York. Those two doses provide 88% protection against contracting the disease, which is considered quite good for a vaccine, but is not a guarantee during an outbreak such as this one. SUNY New Paltz interim vice president for student affairs Dr. Wayne Brumfield said that only 19 students on campus had vaccine exemptions, and they were all sent home when the first cases of mumps were identified. While none of the initial cases was in an unvaccinated student, Brumfield did not confirm if any of those students have since been stricken by the disease.
Hutton said that mumps may be making a comeback due to “declining herd immunity” as more people forgo vaccines. The philosophical exemptions available in some other states provide more opportunity to avoid vaccinations than the more limited medical and religious exemptions available in New York.
The 19 unvaccinated SUNY New Paltz students, who were sent home based on established protocol for this kind of outbreak, have been able to continue their studies remotely, according to Brumfield, up to and including the taking of their final exams. It’s hoped that they will be able to return to campus for the spring semester, if the outbreak has run its course by then.
Brumfield encouraged all students to get the third vaccine dose during the POD clinic at the student union building. Symptoms of mumps include swelling of the salivary glands, fever, headaches, muscle aches, fatigue and loss of appetite. Students and others who exhibit these symptoms are encouraged to isolate themselves and seek immediate medical care. Any student who did not opt for the vaccine booster on campus could request one from their health professional during the winter break, he said, and if they do exhibit symptoms, they should advise their doctor of the outbreak. Mumps is a reportable disease, noted Hutton.
Other cases of mumps in the state have been largely, although not entirely, confined to college campuses. Hutton said that cases had been diagnosed at SUNY Buffalo and Geneseo, in particular. Nationwide, outbreaks have also been reported at Harvard, and the universities of Missouri and Illinois. One high school student in New Paltz who apparently had contact with a college-student victim also got the disease, but Smith believed it to be the only case in the local school district.