There are two confirmed cases of mumps among Bowdoin students and a third suspected case pending lab confirmation according to Doug Cook, director of news and media relations at the College. 

Mumps is a viral infection that primarily attacks the parotid glands—a pair of salivary glands located behind the jaw. The virus is transmitted via saliva or mucus from the mouth, nose or throat of an infected person. Symptoms include body aches, fever, headaches, glandular swelling (that usually presents as neck swelling) and loss of appetite. The incubation period is typically 16-18 days, but can be as long as 12-25 days; symptoms usually last about a week.

The vast majority of Bowdoin students are immunized for mumps, and fewer than 10 are not vaccinated (for religious, personal, moral, or philosophical reasons) or do not have vaccination records on file. According to Director of Health Services Dr. Jeffrey Maher, there are also a handful of students that did not get the booster, likely due to adverse affects to the first shot.

The infected students are “self-isolating as advised by the Health Center,” according to an email  Maher sent to all students, employees and faculty on Wednesday.

The Health Center reported the cases of mumps to the Maine Centers for Disease Control (Maine CDC).

“We’re now enrolled at the Maine Center for Disease Control in a scouting program,” said Maher. “So now we have a field manager assigned to us and support from the state should it get much bigger,” he continued.

Per the Maine CDC, students who are not immunized with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine are also being isolated in their rooms for a period of 18 days. Should any more cases be confirmed, the 18-day period will be reset.

“I’ve been contacted by the Health Center telling me that because I was not immunized that I was not allowed at any campus buildings including classes, extra curricular activities, the dining halls, etc.,” said Axis Fuksman-Kumpa ’17.

Mumps is concerning because the potential rare complications associated with the infection are very serious—miscarriage, permanent fertility issues (due to testicular or ovarian swelling), deafness, swelling of the brain and death are all possibilities.

“You’re contagious before you are symptomatic and then you can shed virus for several days after you’re better,” said Maher.

Maher said that three NESCAC colleges have ongoing mumps investigations, but Bates College is the only one that has announced it publicly. On October 6, Bates confirmed three cases of mumps; on October 26 Bates again reported that an unspecified number of additional students were infected.

Williams College students on the student organizations listserv received an email from their assistant director for student organizations and involvement, saying that if “groups are planning to or have recently been to Bowdoin College please take the appropriate precautions/measures.”

Maher believes that mumps was spread around these NESCAC colleges due to visits from students at different schools—such as through athletic events or general co-mingling.

The State of Maine requires that students receive the MMR vaccine, among other vaccinations. The MMR vaccine is administered in two parts: once around age one, with a booster around age five.

“The first line of defense for mumps is the routine vaccination, which almost everybody has across the board,” said Maher. “That’s how public health works, what we call ‘herd immunity:’ that the vast majority of people are immunized so small outbreaks tend to stay small.”

Both students with lab-confirmed cases of mumps live in the same off-campus house. Maher said that the other 10 people residing in that house have all been immunized and should be protected despite their close proximity to the infected students. Residents of the off-campus house declined to comment for this story.

According to Maher, mumps on college campuses is common.

“In any case where people congregate in tight quarters and share saliva, either coughing or kissing or … sharing utensils … [it] is a unique and perfect place for [mumps] to happen,” said Maher.

In April of this year, 40 students were infected in a mumps outbreak at Harvard University. All of those students had been immunized.

Mumps outbreaks occurred in Brunswick in 2007 and 2009.

“Both of those outbreaks involved Bowdoin College at some level,” said Maher.

Maher said all students can take precautions by frequently washing their hands, maintaining general hygiene and monitoring themselves for symptoms. If students are experiencing symptoms, Maher urges them to go to the Health Center, not the Mid Coast Walk-In Clinic or the emergency room at Mid Coast Hospital.

“To try to keep it contained at Bowdoin is actually to help Brunswick and greater Brunswick. It helps minimize exposure,” said Maher. “There’s only supportive care, there’s no antibacterial medicine or anti-infective medication we can give someone.”

Bowdoin parents were notified about the mumps outbreak in an email on Thursday afternoon from Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster.