Q: I read about an outbreak of mumps in colleges. What more do I need to know about this?

A: Outbreaks of contagious diseases occur from time to time, and recently mumps has been making the rounds. Teachers, parents and students should be concerned, since catching it can keep you out of class, and in severe cases, in the hospital. Fortunately, there are precautions that you can take to keep the risk of infection at safe levels.

Mumps is a virus and spreads through close personal contact and fluid exchange and causes a disease that can be quite severe. Usually, it begins with a couple of days of fever, tiredness, muscle pain, headaches, and loss of appetite, followed by a swelling of the salivary glands. These flu-like symptoms generally arrive around two weeks after you have been infected. This is the high-risk period where the virus can be passed on to others.

Antibiotics are completely ineffective against viruses. Treatment is self-administered. A lot of rest can alleviate the fatigue, and pharmacy pain killers can reduce the headaches and fever. Dehydration is another symptom, so drinking plenty of fluids is recommended. If your glands are swollen, you should apply an ice pack. A change in diet could also reduce symptoms. Eat softer foods such as soups and yoghurt and avoid acidic food and drink.

The disease usually takes around a fortnight to run its course, and you should start to feel better after ten days or so. Mumps is something most people only get once, and your immune system will protect you from further outbreaks unless you have already been vaccinated.

Prevention is always better than the cure, so if you are worried about an outbreak around campus, there are a few things to be aware of. Mumps can be prevented if you have had the vaccine when you were a baby. To find out, you can visit Student Health Services (SHS) for a test. You will need to have had two doses of the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine before your first birthday. SHS is there to help and advise you. There are no cases for legal liability with a disease outbreak such as this one.

The Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine is usually administered to children before they go to school, with the first shot at between 12 and 15 months and the second between 4 and 6 years. Research indicates that the vaccine protects 85% of people from the disease.

Your parents should also have access to your medical records which will show if you have received the vaccination. You can schedule an appointment to get the jabs if you have not already had them as a child.

If you are unsure of whether or not you have the illness, you should wash your hands frequently, avoid close contact with other students, and use gloves if you need to deal with bodily fluids. Respiratory etiquette is also vital to delay the spread of the disease. Always cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing, whether you have the virus or not. The contagion is highly infectious for up to two weeks before any symptoms show.

Mumps is unpleasant but not life-threatening. Forewarned is forearmed.

Universal vaccination may well be the greatest success story in medical history… Michael Specter

Written by Suzanne Hite, former publications editor serving the technology services sector.

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the opinions of King’s College or WRKC.