Earlier this year, the University of Iowa experienced an alarming outbreak of mumps. Caused by the paramyxovirus, mumps is an illness that triggers inflammation in the parotid glands of the face. As the infection worsens, fluid builds within the tissue beneath the skin, producing swelling in associated regions of the cheek and jaw. Patients generally experience a moderate degree of pain and discomfort as symptoms progress.
Most viruses thrive during cold weather, as they can easily spread between people in close proximity indoors. On the contrary, the first mumps cases to be seen at Iowa appeared in late July. When the entire student body returned to campus a month later, mumps cases steadily increased.
Student Health & Wellness staff, in collaboration with county and state health officials, spent the first half of fall educating students, parents, and staff about mumps symptoms and advising strategies to avoid potential exposure.
Members of the academic community responded with immense support for students who were either ill or forced into quarantine to protect those around them. Class absences were excused, test extensions provided, and other efforts for accommodation were made by faculty during September and October.
However, as the November holidays approached, with more individuals continually contracting the infection, it seemed the university was witnessing the beginning of another mumps contagion. Direct action was necessary.
In consultation with the Iowa Department of Public Health, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UI administrators organized mass vaccination clinics across campus.
Considering that most people receive their MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) shots as children, it is believed there may be instances where the mumps immunity actually wanes. Occasionally, the portion of the MMR which protects against mumps, even with two doses, is not one-hundred percent effective against the virus.
As a result, in the space of ten days, approximately 5,000 doses of a third MMR vaccine were delivered to students in eight different campus clinics, including the Iowa Memorial Union (IMU).
“Students came to get vaccinated at no charge in great numbers – over 4,800 students in that short time,” said Lisa James, associate director for Clinical Outreach at Student Health & Wellness. “Volunteers from all across campus helped immensely with these clinics. Students from the health science colleges, faculty, staff, community members, and area health agencies came out. Johnson County Public Health personnel were integral to the success of the largest clinics held in the IMU.”
Student Health & Wellness maintained close surveillance over the situation through the next months, continuing their efforts to provide information and be proactive with early patient diagnoses and proper isolation measures.
By mid-March, significant improvements were visible on campus, with only a few cases of mumps occurring each week.
During a three-week visit to Iowa City last year, CDC officials were able to thoroughly examine the circumstances surrounding the outbreak, the effectiveness of the third MMR treatment, and the cost of the collective efforts to resolve the issue on campus.
The CDC plans to use the information to create a new resource for other schools, offering valuable guidance on the handling of large-scale public health concerns, and insight on the process of combatting those problems with resource-conscious solutions.
Read more on topics related to the UI mumps outbreak on Iowa Now.