By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
A freshman from Arlington went to the University of Virginia student health center Friday with a fever, swollen cheeks and an almost certain case of the mumps, a highly contagious viral disease.
Since then, the health staff has been scrambling to ensure other students are protected.
"It's been crazy. It's been crazy," said James C. Turner, executive director of the Department of Student Health. His staff worked over the weekend to notify students of the threat and chase down the more than 1,000 who hadn't turned in all their health forms.
Most students have been vaccinated, he said, but because there is no specific treatment for mumps, the health staff wants to be sure that anyone who has not gotten the two doses of the vaccine gets them quickly.
Those who have not returned all the health documentation by 5 p.m. today might be barred from campus until at least mid-October.
Yesterday, dozens of students got vaccinated, others came in worried about symptoms that turned out to be a common cold, and parents called and e-mailed with questions about safety for their children.
The university posted a photo of a miserable-looking mumps victim with chipmunk cheeks and a sock tied around his head on its Web site to show students what the symptoms look like. The disease is so uncommon that many don't know what to look for, Turner said.
Stephanie Paredes, the 18-year-old student who got sick, had never met anyone with mumps. "It's so random," she said.
But it's spreading. Campuses in the Midwest were hit hard by mumps outbreaks this year, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported thousands of cases.
Last year, there were two cases in Virginia, said Lilian R. Peake, director of the Thomas Jefferson Health District of the state Health Department. The 49 cases recorded this year were isolated, not an outbreak.
Health officials expect more U-Va. students to get mumps because it is so easy to spread the disease in dorms. Sneezing, sharing glasses and kissing can transmit the virus.
The disease causes symptoms including fever, headache, fatigue and swollen glands, particularly around the face and neck. Complications are rare but can include deafness, meningitis and, in men, sterility. People are contagious for several days before and about nine days after they begin to have symptoms. It can take two to three weeks for symptoms to appear. Vaccination prevents infection in 90 to 95 percent of cases.
Paredes said she had been vaccinated, so she does not have a severe case. Once she got the diagnosis, she left campus almost immediately and is home in Arlington. "I'm more worried about schoolwork than anything else," she said.