MUNCIE, Ind. — In the first two months of this year more than 1,000 cases of mumps were reported to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Cases have been reported in 37 states and the District of Columbia as of Feb. 25. But some states have become hot spots for the outbreak in just the first few months of this year:
• Arkansas is reporting 2,878 mumps cases affecting 19 schools in eight school districts and two colleges as of March 8 — more than the entire CDC total from the week and a half previous.
• Missouri reported 396 cases statewide since its outbreak started in late August and more than 9 in 10 cases were among University of Missouri students in Columbia, Mo. More than 150 cases were contracted this year, according to data as of Feb. 25.
• Washington has 586 confirmed and probable cases as of March 8 with 8 in 10 infections occurring in Spokane and King counties, which contain the cities of Spokane and Seattle more than 250 miles apart.
Actually, these mumps outbreaks are nothing new though cases have decreased by more than 99% since the Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine in 1967 to prevent the infectious disease. Mumps used to infect almost 200,000 people each year, many of them children and teens.
Recent years have seen a multi-year outbreak in 2009-10 in New York City involving more than 3,000 people, and 2006 more than 6,500 cases were reported across the Midwest. Mumps outbreaks can occur any time of year,and in any location.
Question: What causes mumps?
Answer: Mumps comes from a virus spread from person to person by respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing or by sharing utensils, cups or cigarettes.
Mumps can be spread from an infected person to others before they feel ill. In fact, once infected, a person might not show symptoms for two to three weeks.
Because the illness is viral, it has no specific medical treatment. The best way to limit the spread of mumps preventing its occurrence.
Before the U.S. mumps vaccination program started in 1967, about 186,000 cases of mumps were reported each year. Since that time, at most a few thousand cases have been reported: a little more than 5,300 last year and as few as 229 in 2012.
Q. What are the symptoms of mumps? Is it serious?
A. Mumps can be serious though most people infected recover in a few weeks.
The classic symptom of mumps is parotitis, swelling of the salivary gland below the ear either on one or both sides. Additional symptoms can include muscle aches, fatigue, headache and low-grade fever.
Some patients with mumps may feel extremely ill and be unable to eat because of jaw pain.
Men and adolescent boys can develop pain or swelling in their testicles, which can result in sterility. Rarely, the virus can cause meningitis, an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord; permanent deafness; and inflammation around the brain, a disease called encephalitis that can lead to permanent disability.
Q. What action should we take to prevent mumps now?
A. The best way to prevent mumps is to be inoculated with the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine.
The MMR vaccine prevents most — but not all —cases of mumps and complications from the disease. The CDC recommends two doses of MMR vaccine in childhood with the first dose given between 12 and 15 months of age and the second between 4 and 6 years old.
If a person does not have a record of their vaccinations, then a blood test called a titer can be performed to show if that person has immunity to mumps.
Other methods of prevention include using good hand-washing techniques, not sharing food or drinks with others and washing surfaces or objects that others have touched.
If you hear of a mumps outbreak in your area, call your doctor to find out if a titer or booster vaccine is recommended.
Justin Whitt is program director of the Indiana University Health Ball Memorial Physicians Family Medicine Residency Center.