From the Archives: Mumps

By Sidni M. Frederick

“In the wake of the present Mumps epidemic, a disease prevalent among children, of 21 cases, 17 Yardlings have been confined to bed, it was learned from Dr. Arlie V. Bock Henry K. Oliver Professor of Hygiene, yesterday.”

At first glance, you too may have assumed that this was just another update from Paul J. Barreira, MD, Director of Harvard University Health Services. Then, you probably noticed the term “Yardling,” wondered why we don’t still use it, realized there were no tips for practicing good hygiene, and then noticed that Dr. Arlie V. Bock was mentioned, instead of our boy Paul J. Barreira, MD.

Apparently Harvard University Health Services is no stranger to mumps epidemics. In fact this 1937 Crimson article, titled “University’s Private Mump Epidemic Reported On Wane,” (which could easily be mistaken for another one of Paul J. Barreira, MD’s email subject lines), almost mirrors the mumps catastrophe that has unfolded on Harvard’s campus this past month.

We’ve uncovered the similarities and differences between the 1937 mumps epidemic that hit Harvard and the 2016 outbreak of mumps on Harvard’s campus right now, based on reports from Crimson articles past and present and Paul J. Barreira, MD’s infamous email chains about the current outbreak. How much has HUHS really learned on how to deal with mumps in the last 79 years? We’ll leave you to be the judge...


“In addition, anyone who has previously had Mumps is almost immune from a reoccurrence of the disease.”
2016 (2/29/16 Email from
“Individuals who have previously had mumps are considered immune to the virus.”

It’s reassuring how much knowledge we’ve acquired about mumps over the last 79 years.

“In a separate building at Stillman Infirmary, 19 of the swollen-checked students are isolated from the rest of the patients, filling the entire top floor, and several beds on the next story, while two men have been removed to their homes. According to Professor Bock, none of the cases has developed complications.”
“The Cambridge Public Health Department mandates that students infected with mumps be quarantined in a single room with an individual bathroom for five days. Since most dorm rooms share a bathroom, students are housed elsewhere on campus, according to Barreira.”

At least in 1937 the University was transparent about where the swollen-cheeked students were being quarantined.


“Although the State as a whole reported only 174 cases of Mumps for the past week in comparison with 576 for the same period last year, University Hygiene department reported only six cases of Mumps during the entire school year of 1936-37 while the present epidemic has included 21 students.”
“There have been 30 total cases of mumps in Massachusetts since January 1, according to state officials.”

Keep in mind, there was no such thing as a mumps vaccination until the late 1960s...

“In the wake of the present Mumps epidemic, a disease prevalent among children…”
2016 (2/29/16 Email from
“Mumps is a systemic viral illness characterized by swelling of one or more salivary glands. Symptoms may first present as an ear ache or jaw pain, and other non-specific symptoms including fever, muscle aches, and fatigue may also occur. The mumps virus is transmitted by respiratory droplets and by direct contact with nasopharyngeal secretions. Treatment is focused on relief of symptoms such as fever and pain from facial swelling.”

On second thought, thankfully our knowledge of mumps has significantly improved from “disease prevalent among children” to Paul J. Barreira’s short essay describing a “systemic viral illness...transmitted by respiratory droplets and by direct contact with nasopharyngeal secretions...” Whatever that means.

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