Why Are Mumps Outbreaks on the Rise?

New guidelines for prevention
child with swollen cheek

Were you immunized against mumps as a child? Many people were. Yet, sadly, mumps is rebounding in the United States.

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Experts consider the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to be 90 percent effective, and usually, two doses offer sufficient protection. However, in response to a growing mumps problem, public health authorities recently updated MMR vaccine guidelines.

In the case of a mumps outbreak in your area, they may recommend you receive a third dose for full protection.

How the mumps spread

Mumps can be potentially dangerous because it’s easy to spread, says infectious disease physician Camille Sabella, MD. “It’s a very contagious virus. It spreads very rapidly in individuals who don’t have protection against it.”

The virus is transmitted through small droplets in the air that are spread when a person coughs, sneezes or talks. It can also be transmitted through close personal contact.

Symptoms of the mumps

For most healthy people, the mumps causes a flu-like sickness that can last anywhere from a few days to a week. Usually, symptoms occur two to three weeks after exposure to the virus.

Symptoms include:

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  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Loss of appetite

A hallmark symptom of the mumps are puffed cheeks due to swollen parotid glands, or the salivary glands located below the ears. Today, as more young children are vaccinated, the condition is more likely to affect older children and young adults.

Serious complications

Before the mumps vaccine became available more than 50 years ago, the disease was common and could cause serious complications, such as permanent deafness in children.

Mumps can be especially troubling for people with compromised immune systems. People with cancer, transplant patients, or anyone with a disease that affects the immune system can have more serious complications.

Because the MMR vaccine is a live virus, those with weakened immune systems often cannot receive it, putting them at risk for contracting the mumps.

It’s never too late for prevention

The best way to protect against mumps is for people to make sure they’ve had two doses of the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella.

“If you have not had two doses of MMR vaccine, it’s never too late to get them,” says Dr. Sabella. “Certainly if you’ve only had one, you certainly should get a second dose, and if you’ve not had any, then you should get two.”

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There is no treatment for mumps, but it’s important to call a doctor if you suspect having contracted the virus.

Dr. Sabella says it’s important to stay hydrated and get plenty of rest to allow the virus to run its course.



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