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Mumps outbreak piques interest, not concern

April 24, 2006|by KRISTIN WILSON

The Midwest mumps outbreak should be cause for curiosity but not too much concern, Tri-State-area health officials say.

Most Americans who have received the mumps vaccine or experienced the virus have a high level of immunity to mumps, explains Rod MacRae, spokesman for the Washington County Health Department. The vaccine used to prevent mumps works against the Midwest mumps strain, according to information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Also, mumps is fatal only in rare occasions. Of the more than 1,000 cases that have been diagnosed in Iowa and several other Midwest states since December 2005, no one has died from the virus, and there have been few hospitalizations.

Still, the Midwest outbreak should act as a reminder that anyone who has not received mumps immunization, either through the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine or through prior illness, should be vaccinated, area health officials say.

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It is unknown how long it will take to contain the mumps outbreak - called the worst in the U.S. in almost 20 years, according to officials with the CDC. Although the vast majority of cases are reported in Iowa, mumps cases also have been reported in Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Kansas, Nebraska and Illinois reported more than 100 cases each last week.

"We are following it as closely as we can," MacRae says, regarding the mumps outbreak. "To be quite honest, there have been a lot of questions that have been raised by this. Why are all these people who have been vaccinated getting the virus? That question hasn't really been answered."

Since the mumps vaccine was developed in the late 1960s, the number of mumps cases has diminished greatly. The CDC has long recommended that every child receive the two-step measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) before age 6. The first dose should be given to children between 12 months and 15 months old; the second between ages 4 and 6.

However, the two-dose vaccine is only 90 percent effective, according to information on the CDC's Web site. When only one dose is taken, the vaccine is about 80 percent effective. The effectiveness ratio might explain the current outbreak, according to the CDC site.

Mumps is a virus that spreads like most respiratory-oriented illnesses. When infected people cough or sneeze, they emit mucus or water droplets, which makes it possible for other people to breathe in the virus.

The most common mumps symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness and loss of appetite. In most mumps cases, people develop swollen and tender salivary glands, specifically the glands in the cheek, near the jaw line and below one or both ears.

The problem with mumps is that it takes two to three weeks after a person is infected for symptoms to show up. Three days before there are any symptoms, someone who has mumps can spread the virus to others. Mumps also is contagious for as many as nine days after symptoms start.

The strain of mumps virus in the Midwest is the same as the one that is causing the ongoing outbreak in the United Kingdom, according to the CDC. More than 60,000 mumps cases have been reported there. Small outbreaks also occurred in the U.S. prior to December 2005.

In any given year, there are a small number of mumps cases across the nation, according to health officials and the CDC. About 265 mumps cases per year is the average reported in the U.S. since 2001, according to the CDC Web site.

Pennsylvania has seen seven or fewer cases per year since 2000, says Troy Thompson, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Pennsylvania health officials are watching what's happening in the Midwest to determine whether any further preventative efforts are needed, he says.

For now, making sure vaccinations are up to date and practicing good hygiene are the only precautions recommended by Tri-State health officials.

"If you've received your vaccination, there's not really anything you can do preventively at this point," MacRae says.

The CDC recommends vaccination if someone doesn't know whether they ever received the immunization or had mumps at one point.

"The MMR vaccine is safe, and there is no increased risk of side effects if a person gets another vaccination," according to information on the CDC Web site.

Some health departments have MMR vaccine available for adults and children, but it is best to consult with a private physician about receiving the immunization, MacRae says.

Sandy LeMaster, nurse director for Berkeley County Health Department, says it's understandable that people have concerns and questions about the mumps outbreak since it has become so rare.

"The thing that we want people to know is that there are no confirmed cases of mumps in Berkeley County," she says. "People just get a little bit more concerned when they know that it's out there. There hasn't been a mumps epidemic in over 20 years."

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