According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, incidences of the mumps have decreased 99 percent since the era before widespread vaccinations. But tell that to the 10 states that have seen outbreaks of the mumps in the past month. So far, there have been 69 reported cases of the mumps this year. It seems to have started in Iowa, but it quickly spread to places like Colorado, Indiana and Massachusetts.
The mumps virus, while rarely deadly, can be very painful. People afflicted with it will suffer from coughing, muscle aches, fever and swollen salivary glands. Patients typically have a distinctly swollen face, since the salivary glands are located just under the cheeks. The virus has no cure, but it typically passes within a couple of weeks. During that time, doctors recommend that patients go to the hospital or isolate themselves for at least five days to prevent further spread of the virus.
The prevalence of the mumps has been dramatically reduced by childhood vaccinations, but these vaccines are not effective for everyone. The measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, vaccine is administered to most people in early childhood. However, some people are not fully protected. For some children, their weak immune systems do not allow them to be vaccinated, so they rely completely on a phenomenon called herd immunity to keep them from getting these illnesses. In other cases, the parents opted out of giving their children vaccines. Some states, like California, are getting rid of their opt-out laws in response to recent outbreaks of otherwise eradicated diseases. And for some, the vaccine might have worn off over time.
There is a simple test that patients can take to see whether they are protected from getting the mumps virus. Many urgent care centers, doctor’s offices and testing facilities can do what is called an MMR titer test, which tests the levels of MMR antibodies in your bloodstream to determine whether you are protected against the mumps. AFC recommends that anyone who received the vaccine before 1979, isn’t sure whether they were vaccinated at all or is pregnant get tested to see if their antibody levels are high enough to prevent the disease.
The mumps is one of many diseases that we no longer hear much about, because with fewer than a hundred cases a year, it seems less dangerous than it would have before vaccines. But this disease is not completely eradicated yet, so to prevent undue suffering for you and your family, it’s wise to make sure your vaccines are still doing their job!