Editor's note: Unedited video of Dr. Michael Blocker speaking to this topic is available for media. Download 720p version here. Download SD version here.
Officials at the Mecklenburg County Department of Health in North Carolina are reporting that they have a confirmed case of mumps in their jurisdiction. The case is related to another confirmed case in nearby Iredell County, according to a news release.
Mecklenburg and Iredell health departments are coordinating their efforts to identify people who may have the mumps and are exploring other possible cases.
“Even though we do have good protection from the vaccine, it’s not 100 percent effective,” said Dr. Michael Blocker, an infectious disease specialist at Novant Health Infectious Disease Specialists in Charlotte. “Also, many outbreaks in the past have been associated with certain people not getting vaccinated.”
In addition, he said, it’s possible to get mumps despite an immunization. “Another factor is that people are vaccinated for mumps as children and there can be some waning of the immunity so people can become somewhat susceptible later on,” he added.
What is mumps?
Mumps is an infectious disease caused by a virus that affects the salivary glands. It often starts with patients experiencing several days of fever, headache, muscle ache, fatigue and loss of appetite, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Subsequently, people with mumps will have swollen salivary glands.
The swollen glands will generally cause puffy cheeks and a tender jaw, but some individuals may experience either very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. The CDC says symptoms appear in 16 to 18 days after infection in most people. However, in some cases they can occur as soon as 12 days after infection and as late as 25 days after exposure.
“There are people who can get very general symptoms of a cold or flu-like illness, fever and then there are others who can get the classic parotid (salivary) gland swelling,” Blocker said.
How is mumps transmitted?
Mumps is spread by droplets of saliva or mucus from the mouth, nose or throat of an infected person, usually when the person coughs, sneezes or talks.
It can also spread through the shared use of a contaminated object such as a cup or eating utensil. People can get infected by touching a contaminated surface or object as well.
How to treat mumps?
There is no treatment for mumps, but some medications can help alleviate your symptoms. The best prevention for mumps is getting vaccinated with the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine. The CDC says the vaccine is highly effective in preventing mumps. However, it won’t prevent all cases of mumps. Practicing good hygiene and washing hands will also help stop the spread of the virus.
“Prior to the vaccine, mumps was a common childhood illness,” Blocker said. “In the same way kids would get measles and chickenpox, they would also get mumps. For the most part, it’s not a very bad disease other than its very contagious and it can go through communities of unimmunized people.”
There can be more serious consequences in some patients, according to the doctor. “Meningitis can occur in some cases. Some men and young men who’ve gone through puberty can have testicular swelling and discomfort,” Blocker said.
“There is some evidence that mumps acquired by women in the first trimester of pregnancy has been associated with spontaneous abortion, but there is no increased risk for pregnant women themselves as we see with cases of influenza,” Blocker said.
Who should get the vaccine?
Children should get their first dose of the vaccine between 12 to 15 months, according to the CDC. The agency recommends a second dose between the age of 4 and 6. A child can also receive the second dose sooner as long as 28 days elapse between doses.
The CDC recommends some adults get the vaccine too. People born after 1956 need at least one dose of the vaccine unless they can prove demonstrate they were immunized.
Additionally, students attending college or any other post-secondary training program that can’t provide evidence of immunization need at least two doses of MMR vaccine taken 28 days apart.
The MMR is highly effective, with two doses preventing nearly 90 percent of cases. But if a patient still develops mumps, the American Academy of Family Physicians recommends letting the infection run its course.
Some suggestions they make to help relieve the discomfort associated with mumps include:
- Using ice or heat packs on swollen cheeks.
- Taking Tylenol, Advil or Motrin to relieve pain and swelling. The academy says never to give aspirin to children under 18.
- Drinking plenty of fluids.
- Gargling with warm salt water several times a day.
- Sucking on a Popsicle to soothe a raw throat.
“If you have mumps, you should be at home. You should not be going to work or school, mainly because of the risk of transmitting it to other people,” Blocker said. “The recommendation would be to stay home for several days after the symptoms resolve.”
Before the widespread use of the MMR vaccine, mumps was common in the United States with more than 200,000 cases reported annually. Today the incidence is significantly lower, though outbreaks do still occur.