Health officials in the state of Washington are alarmed about a significant outbreak of mumps in January. Nearly 300 cases have been confirmed across five counties. That includes 166 cases in King County where Seattle is located. On the opposite side of the state in Spokane, 94 cases have been recorded. Health officials there ordered 300 students to stay home because they were not up to date with their vaccines.
Mumps: A Pain In The Jaw
Mumps is a common condition spread by an airborne virus. It most often affects children but adults are susceptible to the disease as well. The most visible symptom of mumps is a painful swelling of the salivary glands between the jaw and ear. This produces the characteristic puffy cheeks and neck.
The word mumps originally meant “grimace,” or “having a miserable expression,” according to the 16th Century English dictionary.
Along with swelling around the face, the illness produces fever, muscle pain, headache, and extreme exhaustion. In 25% of the cases only one side of the face swells. The swelling peaks in 1 to 3 days.
Vaccination Effective But Not Perfect
Just about all children in the United States are routinely vaccinated for mumps with the MMR vaccine. The first dose is given at age 12 to 15 months; a second round is given at ages 4 to 6 years. The vaccine is not 100% effective, but it does prevent 88% of cases.
Even so, new outbreaks such as those in Washington can still happen, most likely due to an influx of people who have not been vaccinated. These people tend to come from other countries where vaccine programs are not universal, but 12 out of a 100 people still contract mumps even if they are vaccinated.
Mumps does not respond to antibiotic treatment, because it caused by a virus and not by a bacteria. Doctors recommend rest, over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen or aspirin, and using ice or heat pads for swollen, painful areas of the neck and jaw.
Drinking a lot of fluids also counters the effects of fever and prevents dehydration. Last, but not least, sucking on ice chips can provide extra relief.
Washington Not the First
Washington is just the latest state in recent years to experience a spike in mumps. The largest outbreaks have occurred in Arkansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, New York and Illinois, all of which saw more than 300 cases. Last year 5,311 cases in 46 states and the District of Columbia were reported to the CDC.
Mumps became extremely rare in the United States after 1967 when a national vaccination program was instituted. Before the program there were more than 186,000 cases in the U.S. every year. After the vaccine program the rate of infection was reduced by 99%.
Another Possible Source?
Although extremely controversial and sure to produce arguments everywhere it is suggested, there is some evidence that new outbreaks of common diseases such as measles and mumps are being driven by people who are opting out of vaccine programs.
A recent review funded by the National Institutes of Health found a connection between vaccine refusal and the rise of measles and whooping cough. Although this study did not mention mumps specifically, the vaccines for these conditions are generally combined into a single shot.
Health officials say our greatest weapon against such common diseases is vaccination. Scientists insist that rigorous, scientific proof ensures that vaccine are safe and cannot produce other harmful long-term conditions.
The vaccine not only prevents the disease in each individual treated, but a;sp prevents it from spreading to others who are not vaccinated. This makes achieving a nearly universal vaccination goal a significant public health issue, in spite of anti-VAX movements arguing otherwise.