You may have heard about the current mumps outbreak at Penn State University.
Or maybe the 42 mumps cases in Hawaii, already the most in a single year for the state since 2001.
The 94 mumps cases, and counting, across the Dallas area also could have come across your news feed.
Mumps is joining measles as one of those preventable diseases that won’t go away.
Along with rubella, both can be prevented by the MMR vaccine and are required or recommended throughout the United States. But, there is a difference between these two resilient diseases.
The lasting measles issue is largely driven by those that do not have the MMR vaccine. Whether it’s by choice or inability to receive the vaccine, not everyone has the vaccine to prevent measles.
Most of the current mumps cases are in those that do have the MMR vaccine.
Does this mean that the vaccine isn’t working?
Not necessarily. The MMR vaccine regularly loses much of its strength 10-15 years after receiving the shot. This doesn’t pose much of a problem for rubella and measles, which most often only affects children.
But, there’s a reason many of the current mumps outbreaks are on college campuses.
Most people receive all MMR vaccine shots before the age of four. That means that most people will see their mumps-immunity dip around the age of 18. The combination of weak vaccine protection and the close quarters in college means campuses are a hotbed to spread mumps.
The recent outbreaks are continuing a trend in the country. Not even halfway through 2017, this marks the fourth year in a row with over 1,000 confirmed mumps cases in the U.S.
Oftentimes, when a vaccine loses some of its strength over time, a booster dose is needed.
While this may be the answer to prevent future outbreaks, it won’t stop the mumps crisis in 2017.
The MMR vaccine provides the least protection for mumps. Even soon after receiving the vaccine, immunity is considerably less than for measles or rubella.
Besides providing protection to one person, a vaccine can help immunize a whole community. If enough people have the vaccine, a virus can’t gain traction in the group. But, once it does have some foothold within the community, the spread is hard to stop.
Once the outbreak has started, an imperfect booster vaccine doesn’t do much to cause its end. The booster can somewhat curb the spread, but there are still holes in the community’s immunization that keeps the outbreak alive.
If booster vaccines won’t stop this outbreak, then how can you avoid mumps?
The options are limited, but it may come down to just being more careful around sick people. The virus produces flu-like symptoms: body aches, loss of appetite, fever and fatigue. While you would often avoid someone with these symptoms, the current outbreak might give you some more caution.
The most reliable way to know if another person has mumps is in the swelling. For days while infected, a person’s salivary glands will swell. The swelling will be clear around the jaw and last a few days during the infection.