2 mumps cases confirmed at school in Barrington, others suspected

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This illustration provides a 3D graphical representation of a spherical-shaped, mumps virus particle that is studded with glycoprotein tubercles. Illustrator: Alissa Eckert

BARRINGTON (Sun-Times Media Wire) - Parents are being urged to watch children for symptoms after two cases of mumps were confirmed, and about 20 suspected cases were being monitored at three schools in northwest suburban Barrington.

“The Lake County Health Department has confirmed two cases of mumps at Barrington High School with several probable cases waiting for confirmation,” Barrington Community Unit School District 220 Supt. Brian Harris said in a post on the district website Thursday. “In addition, there are several suspected cases of mumps that have been reported at both Prairie and Station Middle Schools.”

Lisa Dallmeyer, communicable disease specialist for the Lake County Health Department, said that two cases were confirmed at the high school, which also has one probable case and 11 suspected cases. There are seven suspected cases at the two middle schools.

Confirmed cases mean mumps was diagnosed through a cheek swab test, Dallmeyer said. A suspected case means a blood test showed mumps antibodies, but the clinical test was either not performed, or results were not back. A suspected case means a patient is showing symptoms, but tests were either not done, or results were not back.

Two cases of mumps are considered a “cluster,” she said. It takes three confirmed cases before the department will declare an “outbreak.” Lake County has averaged 2.67 cases of confirmed mumps each year since 2006.

The confirmed cases included one adult and one student at Barrington High. The student had received the MMR vaccines, which Dallmeyer called the best way to protect a child.

No vaccine is 100 percent effective, but Dallmeyer stressed the MMR vaccine is “one of the biggest things that can be done” to insure immunity. She said getting the majority of students vaccinated leads to a “herd immunity,” and the higher the concentration of vaccinated students, the better.

She said most students in the Barrington schools have been vaccinated, with the exception of about 40 who had medical or religious exemptions.

The school district is working with the health department and being “very proactive” to help reduce the spread of the virus, she said.

That includes cleaning school buildings every night, with special attention paid to “high-touch surfaces” such as tables and chairs, Harris said.

“The most important factor in reducing the spread of mumps is being aware of the symptoms,” he said. “If you or your student experience any of the common signs and symptoms of the disease, please stay home from school and contact a physician as well as the school nurse.”

Mumps is a contagious viral disease with an incubation period of 2-3 weeks, according to the health department. The most common symptom is swelling or pain close to the jaw, or on one or both sides of the face. Other symptoms include headache, low-grade fever, earache, sore throat or cough, tiredness and loss of appetite.

A person is most contagious two days before onset of illness and four days afterwards, according to the health department. The disease is spread through respiratory droplets from sneezing or coughing; or saliva transfer from sharing cups, cigarettes or other articles.

“Anytime we have confirmed cases, there is a very big concern,” Dallmeyer said, but “on average, the disease is not considered dangerous.” She said severe complications are possible, including meningitis, encephalitis, arthritis and deafness, but she she stressed that such complications are “rare.”

National statistics show an average of one death per year in the United States from mumps from 1980-1999, she said.

The department recommends those suspected of having the disease contact a physician for a cheek swab, and stay home for five days after the onset of swelling. There is no treatment for mumps, but the health department recommends all children receive two doses of the MMR vaccine, and practice good hygiene measures.