Mumps may seem like a contagion relegated to history books, but like many other diseases of the past now preventable with a vaccine, mumps has been making a resurgence. Cases are at 10-year high and are especially common on college campuses across the country. Now the Dallas area is seeing the largest outbreak in Texas in years. Cristie Columbus, MD, vice dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine's Dallas campus and an infectious disease specialist, explains what people need to know about the mumps.
What is mumps?
Mumps is caused by a virus, specifically a type of Rubulavirus in the Paramyxovirus family. Before the vaccine was widely introduced in the United States in 1967, nearly every child would become infected. Although cases have declined more than 99 percent since then, outbreaks do still occasionally occur.
What are the symptoms of mumps?
The classic symptom of mumps is swollen salivary glands, which causes puffy cheeks and a swollen jaw that can make it difficult to eat. Other symptoms, which last seven to 10 days, may include a fever, fatigue and head and muscle aches. Some people—possibly as many as 40 percent of those infected—may have only very mild symptoms (if they have any at all), and therefore might not realize they have the disease. Still, they may be able to spread the virus to others.
How long after being infected do symptoms usually appear?
Symptoms can appear between 12 and 25 days after the initial infection, but usually people begin experiencing them 16-18 days after they are infected.
Can mumps become serious?
Although most people recover completely in a few weeks, sometimes serious complications of mumps can occur, especially in adults. Men and adolescent boys can develop mumps infection of the testicles that results in testicular pain and swelling, which can cause sterility. Other types of inflammation associated with the disease include meningitis (which affects the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord) and encephalitis (which affects the brain itself). Rarely, these conditions can lead to permanent loss of hearing, disability or even death.
How is mumps spread?
The virus that causes mumps is spread in the saliva or mucus of those infected. This commonly occurs through coughing, sneezing or talking, but can also happen when people share items like drinking glasses that come into contact with saliva. Those infected are contagious from two to five days before symptoms begin until about five days after.
How can mumps be prevented?
Anyone who is eligible should be immunized with the MMR vaccine, which protects against mumps, as well as measles and rubella. Study after study have shown that vaccines, including the one for mumps, are safe and are not linked to autism. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children get two doses of MMR vaccine, once when they are between 12 and 15 months old and again when they are 4 to 6 years old. Older children, adolescents and adults born after 1956 who did not receive the full series as a child should also be vaccinated unless they have a condition—like pregnancy or a weakened immune system—that prevents it. Those at increased risk, such as international travelers, health care workers and college students, should receive two doses of the vaccine if they are not known to be otherwise immune.
What should I know about the current outbreak in Texas?
There are now more than 50 cases in the Dallas area as the outbreak in Johnson County has grown and cases have been found in Dallas, Collin, Denton and Tarrant counties. In contrast, there haven't been more than 20 cases in the entire state in any year since 2011.