Parents at three schools alerted after mumps confirmed in Mililani cafeteria worker

Parents of students at Mililani High, Mililani Uka Elementary, and Mililani Waena Elementary schools were notified Friday that a food service worker at the high school contracted the mumps virus.

The Hawaii Department of Health contacted the school Friday morning.

As a result, the school’s cafeteria, which prepares roughly 2,500 lunches daily for the three schools, was shut down for a thorough cleaning.

All prepared food for Friday was recalled as a precaution, and students instead received a lunch of pizza and hot dogs.

“We still wanted to take precautions today and inform students and parents especially to make sure the elementary schools we serve, Mililani Uka and Waena, were taken care of in a quick manner,” said Mililani High School principal Fred Murphy. “Just about 2,500 meals were procured by counselors and the administration team, getting out their credit cards and running to Costco, Iwilei, Kapolei, Waipio Gentry, Burger King across the street, and going to Papa John’s and Pizza Hut and Domino’s. We got it all done and served within an hour, which was amazing.”

“When we were going to the cafeteria, they had us wait a little and watch a movie when we were waiting for them to eat. But after, we ate sandwiches and chips,” said Mililani Waena student Maxim Orem.

The food was paid for with school fundraising money that will eventually be reimbursed by the state. No student was charged.

“I’m still getting the bill. Everyone has their little credit card statements, and at the end of the day, we’ll total it up, but I know at least one Costco run for 350 hot dogs cost us $450,” Murphy said.

According to a notice posted on the school’s website, the employee worked on Sept. 7, during the infectious period.

In a letter sent home to parents, officials said: “All of our food service workers follow proper health and safety procedures when preparing food and the decision to withdraw today’s lunches was only made in an abundance of caution for our students’ health. All cafeteria facilities will be cleaned and disinfected thoroughly as they are each day.”

“It is concerning as a parent. Fortunately my child does not consume any of the food that’s being prepared, so at least for us, it’s not a risk, but I feel that perhaps some of the other families might be concerned,” said Mililani High parent Doris Frey.

The school says all cafeteria employees who were in contact with the infected employee are going through a screening process to ensure they are vaccinated and clear of the mumps.

“Anyone else in proximity to that employee must prove their fitness to return to work, and if they’re not able to do that, they’re off campus with pay until the third of October,” Murphy said.

This is the third case confirmed at the school in a matter of weeks. Two students previously got infected. Murphy says the cases are not linked.

Mumps is a contagious disease spread through saliva or mucus from the mouth, nose, or throat of an infected person. Symptoms are typically mild, but mumps can occasionally cause complications, especially in adults.

As of Sept. 14, 362 cases of mumps were confirmed in Hawaii.

Case by county break down as follows:

  • Oahu 317
  • Kauai 30
  • Hawaii 14
  • Maui 1

Even though mumps is highly contagious, the Department of Health doesn’t mandate any type of sanitation process or have certain requirements in place if a food handler comes down with the virus.

That’s because it’s not a foodborne illness.

State epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park says the virus is spread person to person through saliva or mucus from the mouth, nose, or throat.

“If an infected person talks to you and you’re in that close confines, sharing food, sharing utensils, ‘Oh, you don’t have a fork? Use mine,'” she said.

It can also be spread by touching infected surfaces.

So should parents be worried?

“I cant speak to the specifics of the situation, but what I can say is if we identify an infected case and we identify close contacts, the first thing we’re going to ask is are they susceptible?” Park said. “It’s not going to go through an entire school or an entire workplace, because most people are going to be vaccinated, so there is still going to be a good portion of people who are immune.”

The mumps vaccine is 88-percent effective, so there’s still a chance you could get the virus, even if you were vaccinated.

Out of the 362 confirmed cases in Hawaii, two-thirds are adults.

“Most of them have no record of their vaccination,” Park said. “They’re not sure. They think they were vaccinated, but they don’t know and they cant verify.”

So how can we stop the outbreak from getting bigger?

Health officials say wash your hands regularly, don’t share cups or utensils, and if you get sick, stay home.

“For mumps, that means stay home for a full nine days for your illness, because you could be infectious during that entire time,” Park said.

Click here for more information from the Department of Health.

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