Mumps outbreak in Maine raises alert across New England

Disease could be spread by students traveling for holiday

December 25, 2007|By New York Times News Service.

BOSTON -- State health officials across New England are on alert after dozens of cases of mumps have been confirmed or suspected in Maine.

Fifteen cases have been confirmed in Maine since September, and 57 more are suspected, said Geoff Beckett, the assistant state epidemiologist.

While no cases have been confirmed in other New England states since September, officials fear the disease could spread quickly, particularly because of the region's abundance of college students, who are thought to be at particular risk.

Mumps is a virus that is spread through respiratory contact.

"It's kind of amazing that it hasn't spilled over yet, which is why we're particularly concerned about the holidays and students interacting, spreading the virus," said Alfred DeMaria Jr., assistant commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

"There's a special risk in college communities because people are closely interacting."

DeMaria said the department planned to reach out to college health clinics in early January, asking them to watch for mumps cases.

Three cases were confirmed at the University of Southern Maine, Beckett said. The university had barred hundreds of students from campus this month for not having a second mumps shot.

The New Hampshire Department of Health sent out an emergency message to health care providers, asking them to report suspected cases and to encourage mumps vaccinations, said Jose Montero, the state epidemiologist.

"Borders do not exist for infectious disease," Montero said. "People go places here, they leave New Hampshire to work in Maine or get health care in Massachusetts. This is quite a dynamic region, which is why we certainly need to keep a high level of alert and open eyes."

Three suspected cases in New Hampshire turned out to be other viruses.

No cases have been reported in Vermont, where officials are alerting health care providers to the Maine outbreak, said Cort Lohff, the state epidemiologist.

The symptoms of mumps include swelling of the glands, particularly the salivary glands, fever and sore throat. In rare cases it can lead to encephalitis and inflammation of the testicles and ovaries.

The mumps virus is rare and was near eradication before an outbreak last year, when thousands of college students in the Midwest contracted it.

Mumps vaccine was developed in the late 1960s, and most states require children to have at least one dose to enter school. Some states, including Massachusetts and New Hampshire, require students to receive a second dose before entering college.

One dose of vaccine is thought to be 80 percent effective, while two doses offer 90 percent immunity to the virus. At least one of the students in Maine had received two doses, officials said.

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