NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The number of mumps cases in Louisiana has more than doubled. Nineteen patients have now been diagnosed with the virus, including two Loyola students and 17 at LSU.
LSU Health New Orleans pediatrician Betty Lo said now is the time to be vaccinated if you haven't already.
"It is free of charge for all kids up to 18 years of age, so there's no excuse that I can't afford it. It's free so if there is ever any concern, just get the MMR and then you won't have to worry," said Lo.
A health official we spoke with said the outbreak started in Arkansas in an unvaccinated population. But the vast majority of Louisiana students who were diagnosed with mumps did receive their two doses of MMR vaccine. The virus is spread through saliva.
In Louisiana, all students are required to have the vaccine before entering college. But students can get an exemption for philosophical, medical or religious reasons. If there's an outbreak, those exempt students are excused from class for their own protection.
"About one in 10 people are not adequately protected even though they received the vaccine. So then when you take a disease as contagious as mumps is, and it's still floating around, we can get these little pockets or upticks," said Dr. Frank Welch with the Louisiana Department of Health. "Everything we have and we can see right now suggests that we have a pretty good hold on this, but I am counting the days. Usually they have a count out, about 40 to 50 days after a cluster of cases or an outbreak like this, to make sure that it's under control. So we're still in that counting period to make sure it is not worse. We do expect we're probably going to see a few additional cases."
To combat the outbreak, state health officials are urging everyone to get their two doses of the MMR vaccine and be aware of the symptoms. They include itchy eyes and throat, malaise and the classic jaw swelling. If you have any of those signs, make sure you are isolated and contact your doctor. Also, to avoid getting sick, don't share food, cups or utensils, and cover your cough or sneeze.
Lo said there are potential serious complications from the preventable disease. She said getting vaccinated can help prevent long-term consequences like sterility in males, deafness and encephalitis.
A Loyola spokesperson said the two students diagnosed with mumps have both been treated and cleared to return to campus by doctors. We're told both cases were quickly contained, and the sick students were isolated. The university is monitoring the situation.