Could the Ohio State Mumps Outbreak Happen in Utah?
Ohio health officials are still battling an outbreak of mumps, and the virus may be tied with two cases of deafness, according to news reports.
A small outbreak of mumps that started in early March at Ohio State University in Columbus has now spread off campus to at least four counties and infected more than 100 people, The Columbus Dispatch reports. City officials say they feel the virus will spread further.
Mumps is a highly contagious virus that most often occurs in childhood. It’s an airborne virus, and once a person is exposed, symptoms can appear within two to three weeks. People with mumps often have a pronounced jawline due to painful, swollen salivary glands. They also may have fever, headache, muscle aches, fatigue and lack of appetite.
Adults with mumps can develop very serious complications, including inflammation of the brain, spinal cord, testicles, breasts, ovaries or pancreas.
Is the mumps vaccine safe?
The mumps virus hasn’t been eradicated, but it’s rare in the U.S. because of the national childhood immunization program. Mumps is one of the “M’s” in the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. Usually given to children in the first two years of life, MMR provides immunity for a lifetime.
Some parents refuse to vaccinate their children due to safety concerns over childhood vaccines, which have been erroneously linked to autism by some, including outspoken celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy and Kristin Cavallari. The fact is that no credible medical evidence exists linking MMR and other vaccines to autism, and vaccines save lives.
Sankar Swaminathan, M.D., chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine, encourages parents to carefully consider the risks of neglecting vaccinations. While cases of mumps are typically not severe, other illnesses, such as measles, can be. “Measles is not always a mild illness by any means,” he says. “It can lead to high fever and a lot of complications. And it can be fatal.”
Can a mumps outbreak happen in Utah?
According to the CDC’s National Immunization Survey, vaccination rates for Utah children ages 19 to 35 months have been steadily declining. The number of children vaccinated with MMR in 2012 was 87.3 percent, down from 94 percent in 2002. When too many children do not get vaccinated, it leads to a breakdown in what’s known as “herd immunity.” That allows a virus to find its way into a population and begin spreading freely.
Swaminathan says the survey results “fit with what we know about what’s happened to vaccination, especially with MMR.”
If vaccination rates continue to decrease, the possibility of an outbreak grows. “The fact that we have an outbreak in a college campus shows that the current rates of immunization cannot prevent an outbreak,” Swaminathan says. “The transmissibility of mumps in a close contact situation, like with children in a classroom or college students in a dorm and so on, is such that we are at risk for an outbreak, and the lower the immunization rates go the greater the likelihood of an outbreak.”
If your children will be in close contact with others, he says, they should be vaccinated. “I always make sure that my children who are in college are fully immunized,” Swaminathan says.
For more information about mumps, the MMR vaccine, and traveling to known areas with outbreaks:
Keeping your Kitchen Under Control: http://healthcare.utah.edu/healthlibrary/related/doc.php?type=1&id=1220
CDC: Information About Mumps for Travelers: http://www.cdc.gov/mumps/travelers.html
CDC: Outbreak Related Q&A for Patients: http://www.cdc.gov/mumps/outbreaks/outbreak-patient-qa.html