The Vermont Department of Health is investigating an outbreak of mumps among students at St. Michael’s College and the University of Vermont. While the total number of mumps cases remains small, state health officials working with the St. Michael’s Student Health Office conducted two vaccination clinics last week, administering doses of the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) to 450 students at the college.

Infographic aimed at college students depicting symptoms of mumps and steps they can take to protect themselves.
Infographic aimed at college students depicting symptoms of mumps and steps they can take to protect themselves.

A similar vaccination effort is being planned for this week for students who live in three UVM dormitories where mumps cases have been identified. Parents of children who attend a day care center located on the UVM campus are being given letters explaining the outbreak. The day care is housed within a Living and Learning Center building, but it is separated from the student areas and has its own entrance. No cases have been identified at the day care center to date. The Health Department said the institutions’ student health staff and leadership have been full partners in the investigation and response.

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According to Laura Ann Nicolai, Health Department deputy state epidemiologist, college students are among those adults at higher risk of exposure to the virus. “Mumps may be spread through close contact, but some people who get it have very mild or no symptoms. Often, they may not know they have the disease,” explained Nicolai. “In a college setting, with shared space of dorms and classrooms, it’s possible to be exposed to the virus through encounters with people who don’t realize they’re infected.”

Thanks to good immunization coverage, mumps is relatively rare in the United States. Two doses of MMR vaccine are recommended for all children prior to school entry. Nicolai said the clinics are to provide a third dose of MMR vaccine, which is recommended for people at increased risk of getting mumps during an outbreak.

Mumps is a contagious illness caused by a virus that can be spread through close person-to-person contact, such as coughing, sneezing or sharing drinking glasses. The virus causes fever, swelling of the parotid glands, and can affect other parts of the body.