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College students face final exams and the mumps

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For college students, the first few weeks of May mean finals. For some students in Milwaukee, WI and Columbus, OH it also means mumps. The outbreak at Ohio State saw seven additional student illnesses in the week ending May 12, as reported by Columbus Public Health.

The Ohio mumps outbreak is the largest in the nation. It is centered around the Columbus campus of Ohio State University but has now spread into the community. Local public health authorities are now reporting case counts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. As of May 12, there were 342 mumps cases in the state with 201 directly linked to OSU. Since the beginning of the year 120 OSU students have had the mumps. Since the end of April, about 15 have become ill.

In Milwaukee, the Journal Sentinel reported on May 9 that colleges in the state were dealing with at least 17 cases of mumps. Marquette University ended its semester on May 2 with one student with the mumps. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is holding finals this week and has three students with mumps. In the largest outbreak, the University of Wisconsin-Madison has reported 13 cases of mumps, and also has finals this week.

As the paper notes, students with mumps are often quarantined, sent home or isolated on campus. They are not allowed to attend class or take finals in the usual way. While the number of college students affected is not large, for those who lost class time, study time or have to make up a final exam, it is a very stressful situation.

The Centers for Disease Control notes that colleges often are home to mumps outbreaks:

Outbreaks can still occur in highly vaccinated U.S. communities, particularly in close-contact settings. In recent years, outbreaks have occurred in schools, colleges, and camps.

In 2006, a mumps outbreak centered on college campuses in the Midwest ended with over 6,500 illnesses.

The mumps vaccine is part of the MMR formulation, for measles, mumps and rubella. Two doses are recommended, one at the age of 12 to 15 months and one just before the child enters school at ages four to six. One dose is believed to provide immunity 78 percent of the time and two doses improve that effectiveness to 88 percent.

Public health authorities note that with the end of the semester, college students will be returning home. A few will be bringing home more than some dirty laundry. It is quite possible that cases of mumps will make that journey, as well. This semester, mumps earns a grade of F.

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