Harvard University Health Services Director Paul J. Barreira said he was “more concerned now” about the spread of mumps on campus than at any other point during the outbreak, worrying that a recent spike in the number of confirmed cases could adversely affect Commencement.
As of Monday there were 40 confirmed cases of mumps at Harvard and slightly less than a dozen students currently in isolation, according to Lindsey Baker, a spokesperson for HUHS. In an email sent to undergraduates Friday, Barreira indicated that there had been 34 cases of mumps at the time.
“I’m actually more concerned now than I was during any time of the outbreak, I have to say,” Barreira said. “I’m desperate, I’m desperate to get students to take seriously that they shouldn’t be infecting one another.”
The rapid spread of mumps could affect Commencement and other end-of-the-semester activities if more individuals become exposed to the virus, Barreira said.
“The concern is that if there’s a spike this week, that means those students expose others, so now we’re looking at a potential serious interruption to Commencement for students,” Barreira said. “Students will get infected, and then go into isolation.”
Mumps, a viral illness that affects the salivary glands, is generally considered rare. Incoming freshmen are required to have received the MMRV vaccination, a vaccine commonly used to prevent the incidence of mumps.
Barreira said at one point after spring break, there were only two cases of mumps at Harvard and no students in isolation. “[T]hen all of a sudden we had 11 in isolation,” he said.
Per Harvard policy, students who have tested positive for mumps must be isolated from other people for a period of five days. Currently, students with the virus are isolated in either the Harvard Inn or students’ own homes, if they live nearby.
Barreira notified students of the first confirmed case of mumps on March 1. Since then, that number has steadily increased, and College administrators warned students traveling during spring break to practice good hygiene and avoid public transportation if they worried they may have been in contact with mumps. In March, nearby colleges such as Tufts University and Boston University reported having confirmed cases of mumps on their campuses. Colleges across the country, such as the University of Dayton, Miami University, and Indiana University have also reported confirmed cases of mumps.
Before spring break, Harvard had isolated students with mumps at the Harvard Inn without notifying other residents—primarily visiting students—because of the University’s policy of protecting patient privacy. Once students were alerted that individuals with the virus were in the same building, they raised concerns over transparency in communication.
Barreira said the increase in incidence of mumps on Harvard’s campus can be attributed to students taking inadequate precautions.
“Students are not acting in a responsible way, knowingly exposing other students to the virus,” Barreira said. “It’s both disappointing and frustrating because I thought we were on the decline.”