Hundreds of students and staffers lined up at Temple University for free vaccine booster shots as the number of confirmed mumps cases has topped 100. (March 27)

When students return to classes at Pearl River Community College for the fall semester on Aug. 19, they will once again be in close quarters with their fellow classmates.

“People who reside on campus together are in the library — in the dining hall together — there is a lot of opportunities for them to spread infection,” said college President Adam Breerwood. 

Students spreading infection is one thing Breerwood doesn’t want — especially since there was a multi-case mumps outbreak on the PRCC baseball team in April 2017 that even affected the coach.

The outbreak is what prompted PRCC to start a new requirement last fall.

“Currently, we require all first-time dorm students to submit two proofs of MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccinations,” said Delana Harris, the college’s director of marketing and communications in an email. “They are due on the Friday of the first week of classes.”

Breerwood said the vaccination policy is necessary as PRCC students travel all over the world during this summer break.

“They come back to us and they bring their experiences with them,” he said. “It’s something we have to pay attention to in order to stay safe on campus.”

The MMR vaccine is usually given in childhood, but the Centers for Disease Control recommends that students at colleges and universities also get two doses.

“We had encouraged people to get immunized, but now we require it,” Breerwood said. “I do remember it being related to the mumps outbreak.

“That was a pretty scary thing for us.”

The outbreak started when six baseball players came down with the contagious disease, which is spread via respiratory and oral secretions. Eventually, 13 people on campus had the mumps — the majority on the baseball team — exhibiting the facial swelling and, at times, other symptoms that come with the infection.

Proof of immunization, proof immunization is underway or medical or religious exemption is required for all first-time PRCC residence hall students by the end of the first week of classes or they will not be allowed to attend college. 

“We did not have anything in place regarding immunization for dorm students before the (mumps) outbreak,” Harris said. “However, some of our programs — nursing, allied health, etc. — have always required them.”

Jones County Junior College does not have an immunization policy, officials there said.

The University of Southern Mississippi follows state College Board policy, which requires proof of immunization of measles, mumps, and rubella for all students at Mississippi’s public universities with limited exemptions. 

In addition, Scott Blackwell, Southern Miss Director of Housing and Residence Life, said Housing and Residence Life, in partnership with the campus health center, highly recommend meningitis vaccinations for all students who live in residence halls, sorority and fraternity houses.

According to the Mayo Clinic, mumps is a contagious disease, known not only for causing swelling in the face, but fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness and loss of appetite.

Mumps outbreaks still occur in the United States — generally among people who aren’t vaccinated and in close settings  — like college campuses.

Breerwood said the requirement has already prevented problems.

“Early part of  last year — we had a case that could have potentially been the mumps,” Breerwood said. “But there was not an outbreak because of the steps we took that resulted in it being contained.”

Since then, Breerwood said PRCC officials have worked closely with the state Health Department to limit further outbreaks.

“We’ve obviously built some good relationships with the resources that are available to us, and with the changes in policy, we won’t have to worry about a situation like that for many years,” he said.

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Contact Ellen Ciurczak at Follow @educellen on Twitter.

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