Imagine if Harvard were quarantined with more than 50 students, staff, and administrators in the hospital and its sports teams barred from contact with other schools so as not to spread the measles.
Laugh. It happened at Dartmouth.
"We can have it [the measles] by ourselves because we are so far off in the woods," says Josie Harper, coach of a Dartmouth's women's lacrosse team that had to cancel its championship match for fear of spreading a disease.
But if you have sore, red eyes, a runny nose, headaches, fevers, and then red spots, be careful, because you might be the latest victim of a measles epidemic that has been sweeping college campuses and high schools across the country.
Rubeola, the old-fashioned, red, hard measles, is no longer just a disease that only small children contract. In the past couple of years, doctors have discovered that the age of measles victims has risen significantly. In fact, most recent measles sufferers are between 26 and 17.
"Measles has attacked a whole age group across the country," says Dr. John H. Turco, director of Dix House, the college's health facilities. Turco adds that judging by what Dartmouth has seen, the rising threat of measles "could be a warning to colleges across the country."
Earlier this month, Dartmouth experienced such a severe measles outbreak that officials at the New Hampshire Board of Public Health attempted to quarantine the entire state in order to prevent the epidemic from spreading.
"The Division of Public Health recommended that Dartmouth students not leave the state," says Marsh E. Jones, a Dartmouth spokesman. "They have also advised that all those susceptible to the disease not enter Hanover," she adds.
This is the second measles epidemic at Dartmouth in the past three years. According to Jones, the most recent outbreak is spreading faster than any of the school's past epidemics.
The first case of measles, discovered on April 14, was brought to Dartmouth by a student returning from vacation in Florida, Turco says. By May 1, the school had documented 52 cases of measles among students, employees, and Hanover residents.
The sudden onset of the virus forced Dartmouth officials to cancel many school functions and sporting events, including the women's lacrosse Ivy League Championship between Dartmouth and Harvard.
Originally scheduled to take place in Cambridge, the championship match was postponed and later cancelled for fear that the virus would spread.
"It was a joint decision between the New Hampshire Health Department and our athletic department not to hold the game," Harper says.
In spite of these cancellations, Harvard recently sent its men's baseball and lacrosse teams to play at Dartmouth. In order to avoid contamination of Harvard students, all athletes with circumspect medical records were given the measles vaccine.
"We innoculated all those who hadn't had solid evidence that they were previously given the vaccine," says Dr. Sholem Postel, acting director of Harvard University Health Services. Postel adds, however, that "Dartmouth innoculated its teams across the board."