FAYETTEVILLE — Two campus cases of mumps since mid-December have raised the outbreak total to 37 as University of Arkansas, Fayetteville students return for spring semester classes that begin Monday, a state Department of Health doctor said.
The outbreak stretches back to September, and it’s unclear when it will end, said Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, the Health Department’s medical director for immunizations and outbreak response.
“During the holidays, of course, the students aren’t there, so we’ll see what happens when classes start again,” Dillaha said in a phone interview. “There may be cases yet to come, because the incubation period can be 26 days.”
Two directives issued by the Health Department have imposed vaccination requirements on students and campus workers in an effort to stop the spread of mumps, with outreach efforts including on-campus vaccination clinics.
Mumps, a viral illness, can cause serious complications, though most people recover completely.
A state Health Department directive announced by UA on Dec. 16 said employees were required to prove immunity to mumps by Friday or show documentation that they have received two doses of the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella.
UA has about 5,200 employees.
Dillaha said that as of Friday about 600 UA workers had gotten only one dose of the vaccine or had yet to show proof of vaccination or immunity. The Health Department directive said workers with just one dose could continue working on campus, as the doses must be administered at least 28 days apart, but must then get the second dose.
After Friday, workers without at least one dose of the vaccine or proof of mumps immunity are to “be excluded from work on the U of A Fayetteville campus until the outbreak is declared over by the Arkansas Department of Health,” according to the state Health Department directive.
An outbreak is considered over when two incubation periods have ended with no new cases, and two such periods for mumps total 52 days, according to the Health Department.
Mark Rushing, a UA spokesman, clarified that only workers who received the first dose of the MMR vaccine in December or later are being allowed to continue working on campus. They must later get the second dose as part of the health directive, he said.
Under state law, exemptions to vaccination requirements are granted for religious, philosophical or medical reasons.
Dillaha said 15 to 20 workers had applied for and received exemptions, but the directive still requires that they be excluded from working on campus until the outbreak is over.
“The idea is for the whole community on the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville campus to be as immune as possible from the mumps,” Dillaha said.
She said a vaccination clinic was held Friday, with two more scheduled for Monday and Tuesday at the UA Pat Walker Health Center. Those needing a dose can receive the vaccine at no cost, Dillaha said.
With two doses, the MMR vaccine is 88 percent effective at preventing mumps, according to information published by the state Health Department. Dillaha said that while those vaccinated can still get mumps, their symptoms are generally less severe.
With students arriving on campus, Dillaha described steps they can take to help reduce the spread of the illness. Only some cases result in neck and cheek swelling, while others with mumps might have symptoms that seem like a cold or even no symptoms at all, she said.
“If they’re sick, they should stay home. For people who are out and about, good hand washing is important,” Dillaha said, adding that students should not share food or drinks.
Mark Rushing, a UA spokesman, said in an email Friday that UA employees will not be allowed to work on campus until they comply with the Health Department directive.
UA spokesman Zac Brown said the university has developed different procedures for workers with a state-granted exemption to the vaccine requirements and those without an exemption.
Faculty without an exemption who have not complied with the directive will be placed on paid administrative leave “for no more than two work days,” Rushing said.
Staff not in compliance and without an exemption can qualify for up to two work days of “accrued compensatory time,” he said.
After two work days, for both faculty members and staff, “the employee will be placed in administrative leave without pay status until the outbreak is declared over by the ADH or until the employee complies with the directive,” Rushing said.
Brown said UA workers not meeting the Health Department requirements but with an exemption may be allowed to work remotely during the outbreak, depending on their job duties. If not, those with a medical exemption will be able to take paid leave during the outbreak, Brown said, while those with a religious or philosophical exemption may use any accrued time off during the outbreak.
The first directive from the state Health Department, dated Nov. 22, mandated that UA students have at least two doses of the MMR vaccine or be excluded from on-campus classes and class activities.
UA had an enrollment of 27,559 last fall, and the university has pushed to get more students vaccinated.
Brown said 81 students were considered noncom-pliant with the vaccination requirement as of Friday. Of the total, 20 students had an exemption, he said. The directive also applies to students with an exemption, however, so they are to be excluded from class.
Rushing has said that UA faculty members have been asked to work with students who are not in compliance with the vaccination requirements.
“Just like any health-related absence, faculty are asked to make accommodations for students to the best of their ability and as is most appropriate for their specific courses,” Rushing said in an email.
He said the university’s housing department also has a role.
“Housing continues to be involved and is aware of students that do not have the required two doses of the MMR vaccine. Excluded students living in residence halls or Greek housing are being asked to limit exposure by staying in their room as much as possible,” Rushing said.