Mumps outbreak worsens

KU students make up 16 of 21 confirmed cases

Kathy Colson, RN, with the Douglas County Health Department makes calls to investigate the recent outbreak of mumps in Lawrence. By contacting people who have gotten the mumps Colson and other RN's are trying to connect the links and learn more about the increase in mumps.

Ten more cases of mumps have been found in Douglas County, health authorities said Thursday, bringing the total to 21.

Sixteen of the cases are Kansas University students.

KU spokeswoman Lynn Bretz said the university was e-mailing students and their parents, alerting them to symptoms and asking for help to prevent further spread of the virus.

“We’re going to recommend they isolate themselves,” Bretz said of students who have contracted the illness. “That means if you’re from Overland Park or Johnson County or someplace, that’s to return home and stay away from classes or work for nine days following the onset of symptoms.”

Students in on-campus housing who can’t easily get home will be asked to confine themselves to their rooms, she said, and the university will provide them with special services.

Kansas mumps

State and local authorities said they hoped the Lawrence outbreak would not approach the levels of epidemic in Iowa, where more than 300 cases have been diagnosed.

“Anything is certainly possible when you have a contagious illness, and when you have numbers growing like we’re seeing in Douglas County,” said Sharon Watson, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Mumps is a viral infection of the salivary glands that is passed through saliva and causes swelling in the jaw, as well as headaches and fever. Health workers recommend frequent hand-washing and other hygienic measures to prevent its spread.

In rare cases, the virus can cause meningitis and encephalitis in victims. Usually, however, it causes more discomfort than danger.

That’s why KU officials aren’t contemplating drastic action, such as suspending classes if the illness continues to spread.

“Generally, it doesn’t last a real long time,” Bretz said. “It’s not a real serious disease, but it does make you uncomfortable.”

But the outbreak is being taken seriously.

“It’s a concern,” said Sheryl Tirol-Goodwin, a spokeswoman for the Douglas County Health Department, and has been since the first cases were announced a week ago.

Six of the 21 cases have been confirmed with laboratory tests. Watson said that if the outbreak continues, KDHE might end testing rather than be overwhelmed with tissue samples.

Dr. Patricia Denning, chief of staff for KU Student Health Services, will give an update on the outbreak at 2:30 p.m. today.