As Spring Fling approaches this weekend, Penn is taking steps to prevent the spread of mumps on campus. To avoid catching the contagious disease, Student Health Service Director Giang Nguyen urges students to avoid sharing vaping products, drinks, and food, as mumps spreads through saliva.
As of April 9, three undergraduate Penn students have been diagnosed with mumps, Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé said. Penn's cases follow a mumps outbreak at Temple University that has sickened more than 140 students and other isolated cases at Drexel University, West Chester University, and Pennsylvania State University.
While Dubé said the three affected students are no longer contagious, he said Penn will be putting up posters across campus with information about mumps and reminders not to share drinks or vape products with other people during Fling.
Nguyen warned students not to pick up food with their fingers at parties, advising students to stick to utensils. He added that students should not share utensils, plates, drinking bottles, cups, or straws. Nguyen also warned students not to share vaping products, such as Juuls and e-cigarettes, which are not often thought of as potential transmitters of the virus.
"Mumps as a disease is not something that is considered dangerous the way bacterial meningitis is thought of," Nguyen said. "But at the same time, we also know illnesses that can spread through our campus can be very disruptive to campus life overall. So we are taking this very seriously and we're watching it very closely."
Symptoms for mumps include fever, swollen salivary glands, headaches, muscle aches, and loss of appetite. While most people recover within two weeks, rarer complications include meningitis, encephalitis, and hearing loss. Nguyen encouraged students who suspect they have mumps to self-isolate and avoid infecting others.
"If someone does have symptoms of concern, then they number one should isolate themselves and not expose their classmates and friends," he said. "Don’t go out to social activities and parties if you think that you might have mumps, don't go to class, don't go to group meetings and so on."
Nguyen said students who believe they have mumps should visit SHS for laboratory tests to confirm the illness.
Students should also wash hands frequently, including rubbing hands vigorously with soap and warm water for 20 seconds, carrying hand sanitizer, and making sure their hands are clean before handling food or touching their faces.
"They could be reaching for that bowl of hummus, and their fingers might brush against the food that someone else might end up eating," Nguyen said. "Single serve foods or foods that are served with utensils would be ideal to prevent infections."
Nguyen said students should avoid serving foods that multiple people will potentially touch, because there is likely a chance that someone may have infected the food even though they are not showing symptoms of an illness. Nguyen also advises students who are sick to avoid attending parties.
"Making sure that if you’re feeling sick at all, it's best to lay low, refrain from going to these big events, because you don't want to be that one person who ended up getting everyone sick," Nguyen said. "There are going to be plenty more parties in the future, this is not the only party you'll ever have the opportunity to attend, you're not going to have that much fun if you're not feeling well anyway."
Unlike Temple, Penn requires all full-time students to complete two doses of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine before arriving on campus. The vaccine, however, is only 88% effective, and vaccinated individuals can still contract the disease.
"Generally speaking, if someone has already been exposed to mumps, there is not as much value in the vaccine," Nguyen said. He said, however, that "a booster might be helpful" for students who are at high risk of being exposed to mumps. Student-athletes who recently traveled to Temple were notified of the risks in their SHS portal and given a chance to receive the booster.
Nguyen also urged students to be careful of other contagious diseases at Fling as well.
"You want to come away from Fling with really great memories and good times with your friends. You don't want to leave Fling with the flu, or norovirus, or mono or strep. All of these things are out there too, and you're much more likely to get one of those things," Nguyen said.
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