Quarantine!

Well, not yet, but on the table. Here’s the story:

My partner works for the division of the health department that monitors and reports infectious outbreaks. Last month, she was sent our to gather samples from several neighboring families of Ethiopian refugees, some of whom had mumps. Since this kind of exposure is part of her job, she receives regular inoculation boosters, and had a mumps booster just a year ago. No problem, right?

So the samples go to CDC (Center for Disease Control) and, lo and behold, it’s a strain nobody’s seen before! And they’re not sure if the inoculation currently in use covers it. So she’s been on “symptom watch” for the last few weeks, to see if she develops any symptoms.

Guess what? Monday night the oldest boy says “Mom, your face looks swollen.” Sure enough, one side of her jaw is a little puffy. She calls the lab, they tell her to see a doctor and have the symptoms confirmed (as it happens, there’s no quick and easy test for mumps), the doctor confirms the symptoms but won’t say mumps, and she’s put on paid leave while samples are collected and analyzed.

Mumps isn’t an awful disease — aside from the swelling of the salivary glands (which only happens in some 30% of cases, believe it or not) the symptoms are basically flu-like: fever, headache, muscle ache, tiredness. You don’t die from it, and there’s no long-term complications. It just… sucks.

And it’s the health department’s mission to stop the spread of suckiness. So she’s off work, everyone in her lab is on symptom watch, the kids and I are all having blood drawn in the morning. (My partner is a trained phlebotomist and promises she’ll be gentle — that’s right, I’m going to let my partner stick me!) And swabs stuck in our mouths.

(Random aside: Firefox’s spell-check doesn’t have “phlebotomist” in its dictionary; it suggests “lobotomist”. Hopefully my partner knows the difference!)

CDC is thrilled. They can barely contain their excitement. Her and I are now a case study, and apparently some biologist at CDC is looking to score major points by discovering “type H” or whatever they end up calling the new strain.

If there is a new strain. The first lab tests don’t come back until tomorrow, and apparently lab tests aren’t conclusive — it’s an elusive virus. It may be she has the flu, and just coincidentally has an infected gland. There may be no telling for sure.

Aside from feeling bad, she gets 9 days of leave with pay, so it’s not terrible. And the kids and I get to report every minor fluctuation in the way we feel for a month (mumps can incubate for up to a month). And we’re still waiting for a call from the health department’s epedemiology section to say whether she’s quarantined, and whether we’re quarantined with her.

So mumps just sucks even when you don’t have it.

Yet?

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