Fifth mumps case reported on Medford/Somerville campus

One additional case of mumps was diagnosed on campus yesterday, bringing a total of five cases of the virus recorded by the Health Service. The five cases recorded include the latest diagnosis, along with two cases confirmed by test and another two cases clinically diagnosed before the Spring Break, according to Medical Director of Health Service Margaret Higham.

Higham said that the diagnosed student was a contact of one the students diagnosed earlier in the month. She said that the student had been fully immunized with two doses of the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine, as was the case with the other previously diagnosed students.

The diagnosis comes in line with a recent outbreak of the virus in universities across the Boston area including 16 confirmed cases of mumps at Harvard University and three confirmed cases at Boston University, according to a March 25 article in The Harvard Crimson.

Higham said that last week, she had a phone conversation with the Department of Public Health and officials from all of the other universities in the Boston area that have been affected by the recent mumps outbreak, and learned that that the RT-PCR test normally used to confirm mumps was less effective than officials previously thought.

“When mumps occurs in people who are already vaccinated, the tests that we usually use to diagnose mumps don’t work very well,” she said. “The special virus tests that we do are only accurate about 50 percent of the time.”

She explained that people who had previously received the MMR vaccine have less symptoms and carry much less of the virus when infected with mumps, making it harder for the test to detect the virus than in those not previously vaccinated. While she initially knew that the test was not 100 percent effective, she said she thought that the test was closer to 80-90 percent effective in detecting the virus. However, new information shows that health officials must rely on clinical diagnoses about the inflammation of the glands.

“It doesn’t matter what the test shows, if you have swelling of those glands, that’s sort of by definition mumps,” Higham said.

Accordingly, she encouraged students to continue to practice good hygiene in order to prevent infection.

“We continue to ask students with mumps-like symptoms… to come to Health Service for evaluation,” Higham later told the Daily in an email. “According to the Department of Public Health, the best way to limit the spread of mumps is to isolate students when the illness is detected, and to encourage students to have good respiratory hygiene.”
UPDATE: The Daily spoke to Medical Director of Health Service Margaret Higham again on March 29 and received updated information about the nature of mumps diagnoses on campus. The article has been updated accordingly.