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Mumps outbreaks alarm health officials

Health officials are urging people across the state to make sure they’re vaccinated against mumps as the state is in the midst of two outbreaks of the contagious disease.

In Western Washington, King and Pierce counties are reporting 67 cases of the disease as of Monday. And in Spokane, health officials confirmed four cases of mumps among college students at Whitworth University last month.

The King and Pierce county cases are associated with a multistate outbreak originating in Arkansas, where there have been more than 2,000 cases this year.

“We’re asking people, especially in (King and Pierce) counties, to make sure everyone in their family has been fully vaccinated,” state Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy said in a news release. “While most people who get mumps will have a mild illness which goes away within a week or so, some people may experience serious health complications.”

In 2015, Washington had seven cases of mumps. Clark County has had just two cases of mumps since 2010, said Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County health officer.

“This is a disease that’s preventable through immunizations that are safe,” Melnick said.

In Clark County, about 84 percent of kindergartners were fully vaccinated against mumps (two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine) during the 2015-16 school year. That rate has been gradually declining since the 2011-12 school year, when about 91 percent of kindergartners were fully vaccinated.

Symptoms

Mumps is a contagious disease that spreads through saliva, which includes coughing and sneezing. People who are infected with mumps, which is as contagious as the flu, are typically contagious before symptoms appear and continue to be contagious for a few days after, according to health officials.

Mumps symptoms typically include low-grade fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness and loss of appetite. The most distinctive symptom is swelling of the cheeks, neck or jaw. The disease also can cause swelling of other glands, such as the testicles, according to state health officials.

Not everyone will experience all symptoms, and some people will show no symptoms at all. But for some, mumps can lead to hearing loss, swelling of the covering of the brain and spinal cord or brain damage, according to health officials.

“For more of us, mumps is a mild condition,” Melnick said. “But for one in every 20,000 cases, it leads to permanent deafness. It can lead to serious complications.”

There is no specific treatment for mumps. The illness runs its course in about seven to 10 days.

The best way to protect yourself against mumps is vaccination, according to health officials.

Children should receive two doses of the MMR vaccine, with the first dose between 12 and 15 months old and the second dose at 4 to 6 years old. Adults should have at least one mumps vaccination (some need two) but people born before 1957 are considered immune because they probably had mumps.

Two doses of the MMR vaccine are about 88 percent effective at preventing infection. Those who are vaccinated and still get mumps may experience milder illness and fewer complications, according to health officials.

Health officials urge everyone to get vaccinated because it helps protect those who can’t be vaccinated because they are too young or have a medical condition that prevents immunization.


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