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Midwest College Students Suffer Rare Mumps Outbreak

The largest outbreak of the mumps in the United States in 20 years is taking place among college students in the Midwest.

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting an outbreak of the mumps, affecting a disproportionate number of college students in the Midwest. Health officials say the disease shows no signs of subsiding, and so far, at least a thousand cases in eight states have been confirmed. NPR's Brenda Wilson reports.

BRENDA WILSON reporting:

This is the largest outbreak of the mumps in the United States in 20 years, involving eight states. Potential cases in seven other states are being investigated. The epicenter continues to be Iowa, which has 815 confirmed and suspected cases. Most are among young people who said they had been vaccinated twice, raising concerns that the vaccine's effectiveness wears off.

The CDC is still investigating the cause of the most recent outbreak, but Dr. Julie Gerberding says there's no evidence that there's a problem with the vaccine.

Dr. JULIE GERBERDING (Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention): The problem here is with the lack of complete coverage of the vaccine, number one. Our vaccine program for mumps began in 1967, but just by nature, there is a group of students, roughly college-age students, who may be less likely to have received both doses of the mumps vaccines, and are incompletely vaccinated. Therefore, they're susceptible when infection is introduced, and they have a very high chance of getting mumps under those environments.

WILSON: The vaccine does not provide 100 percent protection. At least 10 percent of the people who get two shots remain susceptible to the disease, which means that in areas with large populations, one should expect a lot of cases.

Dr. GERBERDING: A number of people who haven't received both doses, coupled together with people who have received the vaccine, but are susceptible anyway because it's not perfect, living in crowded conditions like college dormitories or mixing up with other students such as might happen during spring break or holidays, and really setting off a cascade of transmission that's going to take a while to curtail and eventually stop.

WILSON: Those who are infected should remain isolated, and Gerberding says it's very important that students, particularly post-high school students and health workers, make sure that they have received two doses of the vaccine and are fully protected. The CDC is making available 25,000 doses of the mumps vaccine to Iowa, and the drug company Merck is donating 25,000 doses to the agency's stockpile. No shortage of the vaccine is expected.

Mumps is a viral infection that causes high fever, headaches, and puffiness around the jaw. People are not usually ill for more than a week. In some instances, there are complications such as deafness or inflammation of the testes. The CDC's Dr. Gerberding says as physicians become more adept at identifying cases of the mumps, she would not be surprised if the disease moves off campus and extends into the community.

Dr. GERBERDING: We do expect more cases, absolutely. We hope that the steps taken to isolate infected people, as well as vaccinate to raise the general level of protection, will definitely help slow this down, and we have seen that work successfully in the past, so we'd hope that it would be successful this time.

WILSON: So far, there have been 20 hospitalizations, no deaths. Brenda Wilson, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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