Many diseases that used to be a real problem, especially during childhood, have since been eradicated in many parts of the world through the use of vaccines. Over the last 20 years, one of those vaccines, the MMR — which inoculates against measles, mumps, and rubella — became falsely linked with autism and, as a result, some parents have hesitated to vaccinate their children. One state is currently dealing with an outbreak of one such illness: Right now Arkansas has more than 400 cases of mumps even though there's a vaccine for it.
The first vaccine for mumps showed up in the late 1960s, and over the next couple of decades was combined with vaccines for measles and rubella, which created the monovalent MMR vaccine in 2005. Merck chose to discontinue them in 2009, and went back to the previous schedule (when vaccines existed but not in a single dose; though they were often given at the same time — before a child starts school).
Mumps is an illness caused by a virus that used to be extremely common all over the world. In the United States, the illness is generally very uncommon thanks to vaccines, but year to year, the number of cases can vary wildly. According to the CDC, there were 2,612 cases in 2010, just 229 in 2012, and so far in 2016 there have been 1,897 reported cases of mumps in the United States. Over 400 of those cases are in Arkansas, and the state has launched an investigation into the outbreak.
What Are Mumps?
The mumps is one illness that, like chicken pox, usually has a very typical appearance: swelling in the glands of the neck along with swelling in the jaw causes "chipmunk cheeks." There's also usually a fever, which might run high.
Mumps can have a long incubation period: if your child has been infected, it can take more than two weeks for symptoms to start. Some people who get the mumps won't have symptoms at all, but they can still spread it to others. There isn't any treatment for mumps, but most people usually recover in a few weeks.
Mumps isn't always serious, but complications are not rare: the virus can lead to meningitis, inflammation of the testes or ovaries in anyone who has reached puberty, and permanent deafness in one or both ears. It's also not a comfortable illness to have and can be extremely painful. A kid with the mumps is likely to miss quite a bit of school, and if their parents are infected, they'd definitely be off work for a while. Some research has suggested that if a pregnant woman gets the mumps during her first trimester, her risk of miscarriage increases.
Will The Outbreak In Arkansas Spread?
As of Tuesday morning, The Arkansas Department of Health has reported 427 suspected mumps cases, with 476 under investigation. More than 30 schools have reported at least one case of mumps in a student and as a result, the department of health has ordered any student with vaccine exempt status to stay out of school for at least 26 days while the outbreak investigation continues. However, the department also stipulated that if the exempt students receive the MMR vaccine, they can return to school immediately.
The mumps spreads like a respiratory virus — through coughing and sneezing — and therefore can be easily spread amongst small children who may not have a handle on personal hygiene yet. Of course, there are also plenty of grown-ups who sneeze into their hands, or go to the bathroom without washing up after.
An epidemiologist from the Arkansas Department of Health, Dirk Haselow, told local news station KFSM 5 and a forum of concerned parents that the outbreak could potentially last another six months. Some parents who attended the information session also told KFSM that even though their children had been vaccinated, they still were infected with mumps. Haselow told parents that even if they were vaccinated as children, they should consider being revaccinated now: many adults tend to be under-vaccinated because the vaccine wasn't widely used until the late 1980s — and the two-dose standard didn't start in pediatrician's offices until 1996.
The last notable outbreak, in spring of last year on a college campus in Illinois, had the CDC considering a recommendation for a third mumps vaccine for adults.