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CDC reports an uptick in mumps cases

Should you be worried?

If you’re up to date on your vaccines, mumps is most likely the last thing on your mind. The contagious disease has been considered rare since 1967, when the mumps vaccination program began in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there has been a more than 99 percent decrease in mumps cases since the vaccine program began.

But this year, the CDC reported an uptick in mumps cases, where twice as many Americans have had the mumps than reported in 2013. This year alone, nearly 1,100 Americans have contracted the disease, including outbreaks among college students and professional hockey players.

Mumps is a contagious disease caused by the mumps virus. Before the vaccine program, almost all mumps infections occurred in people age 15 or younger. The vaccine now protects most children, and the new cases being reported by the CDC are in people older than 15. Those infected with mumps are contagious up to a week before they feel sick, making the disease very easy to spread.

The CDC notes that a “major factor contributing to outbreaks is being in a crowded environment, such as attending the same class, playing on the same sports team, or living in a dormitory with a person who has mumps.”

Although mumps cases in the U.S. have doubled in a year, it’s still too soon to say the disease is making a comeback, according to Dr. Charles Bregier of Novant Health Urgent Care and Occupational Medicine. Here’s what you should know.

About mumps

The CDC reports mumps is contagious, but the vaccine protects against most cases. Mumps is spread by droplets of saliva or mucus from the mouth, nose or throat of an infected person – usually when that person coughs, sneezes or talks.

The symptoms of mumps include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen salivary glands

There is not a specific treatment for mumps, but supportive care is provided as needed. Most people fully recover from the mumps, however, there are some rare complications, including inflammation of the testicles, ovaries, brain and temporary or permanent deafness.

The vaccine

The mumps vaccine, MMR, protects against measles, mumps and rubella. MMR is the best way to prevent the mumps. The vaccine is routinely given to children in two doses. The first dose is administered when children are 12-15 months old, and the second dose is given at 4-6 years old. Two doses are more effective than one and prevent most, but not all, cases of mumps and mumps complications.

Why we’re seeing an uptick

“Although the immunity rate is so high, the immunization isn’t perfect,” said Bregier. “Even if there is a 98 percent immunity rate from the vaccine, there’s a 2 percent chance someone could contract mumps. With large populations in close contact, like the National Hockey League or college campuses, there’s a good chance that could happen.” He added that we’re much better off than before the immunization program began.

Bregier also mentioned that until 1989, children only received one mumps vaccine instead of two, so there’s a chance that people contracting mumps today only had one vaccine and aren’t as protected. He added that immunology and public health research is ongoing, and the CDC or World Health Organization (WHO) may recommend an additional MMR vaccine if they feel the risk of mumps is increasing.

“When you think about how things change, such as pertussis and the now-recommended Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) booster after age 9, you realize the CDC and WHO are keeping an eye out for things that need updating,” said Bregier. “If they think the risk of mumps is increasing, they may recommend an additional booster. I wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually make changes, but it’s also too soon to tell.”

If you aren’t sure if you are up to date with your MMR vaccination, consult with your physician. 

Published: 12/22/2014