Possible case of mumps on campus

Winslow warns students to watch for symptoms

The Winslow Health Center announced to the campus community on Feb. 2 that the possibility of the mumps virus exists on Allegheny’s campus. On Feb. 10, the health center updated the community in a campus-wide email that the initial tests of the suspected mumps virus came back negative.

In the latter email, the health center said, “[the Pennsylvania Department of Health] believe[s] this was probably not mumps because two initial types of tests were negative.”

Because of the average incubation period of 16 to 18 days, the health center has advised the Allegheny community to be aware of potential cases and to watch for symptoms, which include neck swelling, muscle aches, fever, headache and malaise, until Feb. 21.

While two of the three tests have come back negative, the health center cannot definitely state that the suspected case is not mumps until the end of the testing period according to Sue Plunkett, director of health services.

Once a suspected case presents itself, testing begins. One type of testing is a titer, a blood test to measure an individual’s antibodies for and therefore immunity to a disease.

“[Testing] can be a complicated process, especially if people have been vaccinated before,” Plunkett said.

However, when a person who has been vaccinated is believed to be infected, the disease can present in unusual ways.

“The incubation period does vary and the disease presents itself in strange ways, especially among someone who we would assume has been vaccinated,” said Rebecca Dawson, assistant professor of global health studies.

Allegheny’s vaccination requirement policy, available online, requires two MMR vaccinations, which protect against mumps, measles and rubella.

The policy also states: “All injections are required prior to matriculation. Sanctions are in place to encourage students to comply with these requirements, as these vaccinations help protect our community…In the event that a new student has difficulty obtaining any of the vaccinations, every effort is made to assist the student in meeting the vaccination requirements.”

Despite this, some medical conditions make vaccination unsafe. Individuals who are immunocompromised, such as individuals with HIV/AIDS or undergoing chemotherapy, cannot have vaccinations as their immune system cannot work towards developing antibodies for the disease. Individuals with severe allergies, specifically to eggs, and those born with certain genetic diseases cannot be vaccinated either.

The thought is that if you create a community that has enough immunity, that the virus can’t go from person to person.

— Rebecca Dawson

In these circumstances, the health center is willing to work with individuals who have not been vaccinated, as long as a potential student’s reasons for not vaccinating are supported and valid, according to Plunkett.

“We do reserve the right to do titers on them to see if they’re immune or not,” she said, referring to students who opt out of being vaccinated.

A similar situation occurs with international or transfer students as vaccination policies can vary between state and especially by country. Japan, for instance, has not had a requirement for the MMR vaccine since 1994.

“We work with them to get the vaccines to get them when they arrive here if they can’t get them in their country,” Plunkett said. “Some international students do titers to see what their immunity level is and very often they are immune.”

Individuals also opt out based on ethical or religious reasons including the use of placental tissue or animal materials in the creating the vaccines.

“For example, some vaccines are made from material that is made from a fetus and for some people, that is not compatible with their religious beliefs,” said Sasha Adkins, visiting assistant professor of global health studies. “Until we can come up with alternatives that are manufactured by a different process, that’s going to put those folks in a difficult position.”

While some individuals may opt out of being vaccinated, herd immunity, which depends on the large majority of a population being vaccinated, is the reason that vaccinations work.

“The science behind herd immunity is that you get enough people who can’t get the disease. It’s sort of like a pinball machine: the disease is going to bounce off of people, trying to find a host that will allow it to infect, replicate, and spread further,” said Dawson. “The thought is that if you create a community that has enough immunity, that the virus can’t go from person to person, that it actually will protect a person who doesn’t have immunity because the virus won’t transmit into that community at all.”

With this in mind, the health of the larger community rests with the immunity of the group.

“I think that we do have a responsibility to each other,” said Adkins. “I think how we go about reducing our risk of exposing others to a pathogen, there are many ways to do that.”


The Center for Political Participation is sponsoring a Quigley Town Hall event concerning the topic of vaccinations on Thursday, Feb. 19 at 12:15 p.m.