The mumps outbreak on the Harvard University campus has reached 59 confirmed cases as of Thursday, May 12, according to Cambridge public health officials. The cases include current Harvard students, faculty, and staff.

Harvard Hall Image/Daderot
Harvard Hall
Image/ Daderot

The contagious viral outbreak has caused concern with school officials, particularly with Commencement activities and those studying abroad this summer.

According to Harvard University Health Services Director Paul J. Barreira, “Given the two- to three-week incubation period for the mumps virus, students who come down with the virus at this point may have to miss certain end-of-year and/or summer activities if they are ill.”

Mumps is spread by droplets of saliva or mucus from the mouth, nose, or throat of an infected person, usually when the person coughs, sneezes or talks. Items used by an infected person, such as cups or soft drink cans, can also be contaminated with the virus, which may spread to others if those items are shared.

Symptoms typically appear 16-18 days after infection, but this period can range from 12-25 days after infection. It is usually a mild disease, but can occasionally cause serious complications.

The most common complication is inflammation of the testicles (orchitis) in males who have reached puberty; rarely does this lead to fertility problems.

Other rare complications include inflammation of the brain and/or tissue covering the brain and spinal cord(encephalitis/meningitis), inflammation of the ovaries (oophoritis) and/or breasts (mastitis) in females who have reached puberty and deafness. Anyone who is not immune from either previous mumps infection or from vaccination can get mumps.

As of April 29, 2016, the CDC reports 727 mumps cases nationally.