Forget Ebola, here is how to protect yourself against Mumps and Flu, the real dangers floating around some college campuses nationwide.

As we approach  the half-way point of  the first semester of this new academic year, amongst the usual range of health and well-being challenges students face on campuses through out Ireland, this year we seem to have a new kid on the block; Ebola, or rather perhaps more accurately, the Ebola-scare. Just over 5 years after the H1N1 “Swine-Flu Pandemic”, where all campuses had to prepare for what might have been a doomsday scenario, once again the world is facing a new type of “infectious armageddon” (as some would have us believe); that of the Ebola outbreak ongoing in West Africa. The reality is very different to the threat posed by Pandemic H1N1 , yet the level of concern emerging, at least via the media and as evidenced by the reactions of some governments to the crisis, appears to be approaching the levels that emerged over the summer of 2009, with “Swine-Flu”. The reality on campuses in Ireland is that there are far greater infectious disease threats to your well-being and health, and whilst the Ebola-scare can’t be ignored, other more mundane home-grown infections; the “usual suspects” are a real threat to you. 

Firstly let’s consider what makes a campus such a risky place, in terms of infectious diseases;

The characteristic feature of an infectious illness is that it is transmitted from a sufferer to someone else, another victim. The unique environment of a campus is perhaps the ideal hotbed  for the incubation and transmission of infectious illnesses between sufferer and victim where we have

  • Densely populated spaces, with many young people crowded together at  close quarters for long periods,  some with social habits that result in swapping of respiratory secretions  and body fluids.
  • A diverse grouping of multiple ethnicities, with differing host infections and differing levels of immunities with differing vaccination programmes in different countries
  • Particular risk groups like Healthcare students and those students living in student residences
  • And finally, as your mammy will tell you; going out at night without a coat (not sure about the evidence-base for this last one, but your mammy will swear by it)

There are some protective factors in the campus setting however:

  • Healthy young individuals with often quite high vaccination rates
  • Potential  for a rapid and rational response from on-site student health services

With all of this in mind, and with a tip of the hat to Ebola at the end of this piece, focus for a moment on  the two infectious diseases that might well strike you down this academic year, just as you prepare for an important exam, or depart on that Erasmus trip,  twin evils of MUMPS and INFLUENZA.

MUMPS:

Unfortunately, probably due to the MMR vaccine and Autism scare in the mid 90’s the uptake of MMR vaccine dropped to level that was inadequate to provide herd immunity, resulting in the re-emergence of Mumps in teenagers and young adults over the past 6-7 years.

 There is already signs of increased MUMPS activity on campus this academic year, with a number of cases emerging. You can see what MUMPS can look like in an adult, (not great!) and read some important information, including how you can help reduce your risk on the UCC Student Health Webpage and our Mumps-specific page here.

And of course remember guys, Mumps can cause Orchitis. (Google it, it's not pleasant)

A number of take home messages:

1. If you believe you might have MUMPS, see a health professional. Do not attend classes, lectures, tutorials or labs. You may infect a number of other people if you are infectious.

2. If you are confirmed as having MUMPS, remain away from campus and preferably remain isolated from others, for whatever period of time the Healthcare professional has advised.

You are infectious usually from about 4 days before to 5 days after facial swelling (parotid gland swells on one or both sides of the face see picture in link above) Individuals are advised not to attend for 5 days after parotid swelling in view of the possibility of transmitting virus to non-immune individuals.

3. Ensure you have had at least 2 MMR doses in your lifetime. This is the most effective way to protect yourself. It is not 100% effective and you may still contract MUMPs occasionally if you are fully vaccinated. The illness is usually milder in those who have been vaccinated. MMR vaccination is available in most Student Health Departments.  Walk in and ask.

4. If you have been in close ( e.g. flat-mate, tutorial room, ) contact with someone who has had MUMPS, you can lessen the chances (or the severity) of contracting MUMPS by getting an MMR vaccine, even after the contact has occurred. Reminder; MMR vaccination available in most Student Health Departments.  Walk in and ask.

 INFLUENZA:

 This appears to be the beginning of the upper respiratory tract infection season and a number of viruses are causing infection amongst students. So far in UCC we have not seen many cases of ‘Flu. That means there is still time for you to protect yourself by availing of the influenza vaccine. The influenza vaccine is available in GP surgeries, some pharmacies and in most Student Health Departments.  Walk in and ask.

At risk groups are particularly targeted for flu vaccine including targeting students on healthcare courses who have direct patient contact with people who are ill, and therefore to whom an infected  student may pose a particular risk. Remember vaccination is about protecting others as well as yourself.

Risk groups include chronic lung disease, chronic heart conditions, moderate to severe

asthma, chronic kidney disease, chronic liver disease, chronic neurological disorders, morbid obesity, diabetes mellitus, pregnant women and those who have weakened  immune systems.

And finally, as promised….

EBOLA:

There is currently an on-going outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa, specifically in the countries GuineaLiberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. Sporadic cases have emerged in other countries. If you are planning a trip remember that:

The Department of Foreign Affairs is advising against all non-essential travel to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria.

 The Health Protection Surveillance Centre has produced clear guidance for the public and healthcare professionals including advice for the educational settings.

Check it out at http://www.hpsc.ie/ 

 If you are concerned and feel unwell and are within 21 days of having spent time in an Ebola-affected country, read the algorithm on the HoS’s website and contact your usual healthcare provider.

Finally remember that if you are ill following a holiday overseas there are far more common causes of illnesses that may be affecting you, including malaria for example.

Be careful out there.

Dr Michael Byrne

Head of Student Health Department UCC, Co-Coordinator of UCC Health Matters and Communications Officer of the Irish Student Health Association.

You can find him at: UCC Health Matters, UCC Student Health, Irish Student Health or here @UCCHealthMatter.