More than two-thirds of the state's 73 known cases of mumps are in Champaign County, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The number of cases in the Champaign area currently is at 50 and could continue to climb, state and local health officials said. Most of the cases are linked to the University of Illinois campus, where thousands of students who were away for the summer are expected to return to campus in the next few weeks for fall classes, health officials told The (Champaign) News-Gazette.
Dr. Robert Palinkas is director of the McKinley Health Center. Smaller mumps outbreaks happen periodically on campus, he said, but the current outbreak is the largest in more than a decade.
"We're hoping it will tail off," he said. "It always has, but you can't necessarily be certain about that."
Mumps is a highly contagious viral illness that's characterized by swollen jaws and puffy cheeks. Although not everyone who gets mumps shows symptoms, they include fever, headache, muscle aches and loss of appetite.
The virus can spread faster on a college campus because students are in sure close contact with each other, Palinkas said.
University of Illinois officials are working to isolate students who have mumps, he said. Students with mumps who live near the school are being sent home to recover, reducing the possibility of the illness being spread throughout campus, he said.
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District also is working to contain the outbreak, said Rachella Thompson, the department's communicable disease investigator.
The 23 other known cases of mumps in Illinois are scattered throughout eight counties, including nine in Cook County, according to the state's latest count.
The DuPage County Health Department is offering free mumps vaccines to students registered with the university on Aug. 6. The vaccines will be offered from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Central Office, located at 111 N. County Farm Road in Wheaton. Call (630) 682-7400 to schedule an appointment. Students must present a valid university ID card to receive the vaccine at no cost.