Mumps has been in the news across the Lowcountry since an outbreak began at the College of Charleston in late September.
The college announced Tuesday the total of confirmed cases on campus now sits at 56.
A student at Summerville High School on Monday presented a case of mumps — bringing the state’s total of confirmed cases to 79, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
After Dorchester District 2 officials were notified that a student had been diagnosed with mumps, it was immediately reported to DHEC, said district spokeswoman Pat Raynor.
District parents were notified late Monday evening that a single case of mumps had been reported, Raynor said. DHEC also sent a letter to around 100 students who were in classes with the affected student informing them to keep a watchful eye out for symptoms in the coming weeks.
“We certainly don’t want parents to be unnecessarily alarmed,” Raynor said. “This is one case that was reported and confirmed. I know that, if they can be, our parents are very diligent in ensuring their children are vaccinated. We make every effort to make (classrooms) safe learning environments health-wise as well.”
Ashley Wimberly, president of the district PTA, said while it’s always concerning to hear of a student coming down with a serious illness, DD2 was successful in notifying parents without alarming them.
“We are very fortunate that every school in DD2 has a nurse and they do an amazing job of promoting good hygiene to our students all of the time,” she said.
Tuesday was the last day of classes this week for the Thanksgiving break.
What is mumps, and how dangerous is it?
Mumps is a contagious viral disease that can’t be cured by taking antibiotics. The disease spreads by contact with saliva — usually through coughing, kissing or sharing drinks — and presents with aches, pains and visibly swollen glands below the ear.
What’s challenging, DHEC says, is that the disease can be spread before a person feels the symptoms enough to know they even have mumps. A person is contagious two days before symptoms appear and up to five days after they begin.
Usually mumps heals on its own with extended periods of rest, hydration and taking over-the-counter medicine to cure bothersome symptoms. But more serious complications can persist.
Complications include deafness, inflammation of the testicles, ovaries, brain, and tissue covering the brain, DHEC wrote in an exposure letter sent to Summerville High School parents Monday.
So while mumps can have more serious risks, it’s still not as dangerous as the flu. In the 2018-19 flu season, for example, 105 South Carolinians died after contracting influenza.
Are these outbreaks because more children aren’t vaccinated?
Yes and no. It is legally required that children receive the measles-mump-rubella (MMR) vaccine, which normally happens in two doses when a child is between 9 months and 6 years old, to attend public school in South Carolina.
But the vaccine is not 100 percent effective in preventing mumps. DHEC estimates that receiving one round of the MMR shot is 78 percent effective in preventing mumps, while both doses are 88 percent effective.
Like all vaccines, the MMR is not a cure-all, but it drastically reduces the chances of contracting an otherwise preventable illness. The mumps disease was effectively eradicated in the early 1990s when the second dose of MMR was introduced and mumps cases decreased by 99 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since 2006, however, reported cases have spiked as momentum has swelled behind a widely discredited practice of choosing not to vaccinate children.
Parents in South Carolina can exempt their children from vaccines for either medical or religious reasons. In Dorchester District 2, Raynor said of the over 26,000 students enrolled, 509 have applied for vaccine exemptions in the 2019-20 school year. The district does not track exemption requests by school.
At the College of Charleston, of the more than 12,600 student medical records on file, 196 students have submitted vaccine waivers.
DHEC spokesperson Laura Renwick said a significant number of cases at the college were associated with fraternity- and sorority-sponsored social events and parties, but the disease has been transmitted outside those groups as well.
Where does the number of mumps cases in SC rank nationally?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website tracks reported cases of mumps across the country. South Carolina’s 79 cases as of Nov. 26 would put it somewhere in the top 15 of states reporting cases — though the CDC’s data is updated only through Oct. 11.
States such as Texas and Pennsylvania have reported over 300 cases statewide, and as of Oct. 11, the CDC has received 2,618 confirmed cases of mumps.
Renwick said it was impossible to predict how much further the disease could spread in the Palmetto State.
“There’s no way to predict the reach of an outbreak,” she said. “Two doses of the MMR vaccination is the best preventative measure against mumps.”