“Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.”
“Happiness is good health and a bad memory.”
— Ingrid Bergman
Central Ohio is in the midst of its biggest mumps outbreak this century and the largest mumps outbreak in the U.S. in five years. As of my writing this on Wednesday evening, more than 230 cases had been confirmed. The outbreak, which began at Ohio State University had spread to Columbus State, the Olentangy School District and one case at Conger Elementary in Delaware.
Health officials continue to encourage people to take action to prevent further spread of the disease. As always, they recommend staying home when you’re sick to avoid spreading illness to others, regularly and thoroughly washing your hands, in order to avoid spreading other people’s illnesses to yourself and, in the case of mumps, making sure that you and your family members are up to date on MMR vaccinations.
When I was kid, the measles, mumps and rubella vaccines were still being given separately but they are now given in a single shot. Vaccines work by activating the immune system to generate a response that will later assist in fighting off infection and no vaccine is effective in 100 percent of the people who get it. As such, a second dose of the mumps vaccination is now recommended as part of the regular immunization schedule or for young adults heading to college who did not have a second dose as children.
As this mumps outbreak continues to spread unabated, there was, today, the first talk of having to begin to utilize some little-used powers of local health commissioners. That’s because Ohio law provides that local boards of health may make any order necessary for, “the public health, the prevention or restriction of disease, and the prevention, abatement, or suppression of nuisances.” In times of “emergency caused by epidemics of contagious or infectious diseases,” those orders can be declared to be emergencies and can take effect immediately upon their passage.
Among the powers given to local boards of health is the power to quarantine and isolate - to confine persons to certain spaces and to prevent large gatherings in which diseases could be easily spread. These orders could include the closing of public carriers like rail, bus and airline travel, or the canceling of sporting events and other large gatherings.
If a person is known to have been exposed to a dangerous and communicable disease, the health commissioner may order that the person be ‘isolated’ - confined to their residence, a hospital or any other suitable place. A person who is not ill, but has been exposed to the disease may similarly be ‘quarantined.’ The board of health may place a placard on the premises, warning people to stay clear, and may employ “quarantine guards” to make sure that the person does not leave and expose the general public to the illness. The quarantined person is specifically prohibited from attending any gathering, including school and church.
Earlier this week, health officials in Franklin County noted that there had, as of yet, not been any clusters of illness in local schools that would lead them to believe that mumps was spreading within the public school system. But given the long incubation period of mumps, they could not rule out that the isolated school cases already identified would lead to additional cases down the road. If that was to occur, they noted, they would likely be forced to exclude children who had not been immunized from attending school for 25 days. Given that we are already in mid-April this would likely mean that those children would miss the remainder of the school year.
Delaware County officials have been doing all they could to encourage prevention and hygiene to prevent the further spread of disease. Their hard work has consistently resulted in Delaware being awarded the distinction of being the healthiest county in Ohio. In an attempt to continue that work, the Delaware General Health District’s levy will be up for a renewal next month. The new levy maintains the 0.7 mill rate that has been in place since 1984. It was last renewed in 2004 by a nearly 2-1 margin.
David Hejmanowski is a Magistrate and Court Administrator at the Delaware County Probate/Juvenile Court. From 1999 to 2003 he served as legal counsel to the Delaware General Health District while serving as an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney.