Medical tests performed on the Yale undergraduate suspected of having contracted mumps have proved inconclusive.
Last Tuesday, Director of Yale Health Paul Genecin sent a University-wide email alerting the Yale community to two suspected cases of mumps — one in a student living in undergraduate housing and one in a graduate student living off campus. Tarek Ziad ’20, the undergraduate, notified the News last Friday that his test results were “inconclusive.” The condition of the graduate student remains unknown.
Ziad, who was released from quarantine on Friday, said that he was admitted to Yale Health on Monday morning, at which point he was required to take a mumps diagnostic test. He added that although Yale physicians initially informed him that his test results would become available 48 hours after the test was administered, he did not receive his results until Friday.
Since Genecin’s initial email last week, Yale Health has provided no further updates on the status of the suspected cases to the University community.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a failure to detect the mumps virus in samples from a person with clinically compatible mumps symptoms does not rule out mumps as a diagnosis. Symptoms of mumps include fever, headache, muscle ache and tiredness, and the disease is transmitted by means of coughing, talking, touching and sharing items.
“The tests for mumps are tricky because they are linked to timing of illness,” said professor of pediatrics Marietta Vazquez ’90, a member of the Yale Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases.
Vazquez outlined two possible types of mumps diagnostic tests: one detecting antibodies made against the mumps virus and one using polymerase chain reaction techniques to identify mumps strains. She said that if the antibody test samples are analyzed too soon, “results can be indeterminate.” On the other hand, she added, if a PCR test yields an indeterminate result, it may be because samples were sent too late after the onset of symptoms.
Eugene Shapiro ’70, a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, said that in practical terms, an inconclusive mumps test should be treated as a positive diagnosis.
“If it wasn’t really mumps and precautions are taken, no harm done,” Shapiro said. “Whereas if it was mumps, but precautions are not taken, it could lead to a more extensive outbreak.”
Last Wednesday, Yale School of Medicine spokesperson Karen Peart told the News that Yale is following CDC guidelines for keeping sick students away from other community members and thus is taking precautions “even before cases are confirmed.”
Genecin declined to comment in light of Ziad’s test results. The Office of Public Affairs and Communication had not responded to queries on Monday night.
According to a Nov. 30 article published by the Harvard Crimson, Harvard University Health Services has confirmed that there are five active mumps cases on their campus — an increase from the four cases that were announced on Nov. 17, two days before several thousand students descended on Cambridge for the annual Yale-Harvard football game.
In a statement to The Crimson, HUHS Director Paul Barreira stated that Yale was made aware of the mumps cases at Harvard prior to the game. According to the statement, “The message that went out to the Harvard community on Nov. 17 was shared with Yale.” The Crimson article additionally stated that, according to Barreira, it remains “unclear” whether the virus was spread from Cambridge to New Haven during the weekend of the game.
“It is possible that the virus was spread during that time, but we do not have confirmation of that at this time,” Barreira told The Crimson.
While Barreira made clear that the information was shared with Yale, it is unclear whether and in what ways this information trickled down to Yale students. No University-wide email was sent out notifying students of the situation prior to the game.
Hansen Sun GRD ’17 said that the news of suspected mumps on campus did not worry him because he is “confident” that he received the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, adding that for the same reason, the lack of updates from Yale Health do not make him anxious.
Anna Hwang ’19 said that since Yale Health is not further updating the Yale community, she thinks the suspected cases are “probably not much of a concern at this point.”
According to the CDC, the average incubation period for mumps is 16 to 18 days.