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What you need to know about the mumps

Over the past few years, there have been several mumps outbreaks reported in the news. The majority occurred in college students, but NHL players have also battled cases of the mumps, including several Minnesota Wild Players just this month. The disease is caused by the mumps virus and it is spread by an infected person’s respiratory droplets, such as through coughing or sneezing. The virus can also be transmitted through contact with an infected person’s saliva, often by sharing drinks, lip balm, or kissing.

After a person is exposed to the virus, the individual goes through an incubation period where the virus grows until there is enough of it in the body to make someone feel sick. In most cases, this is around the same time they build up enough of the virus to risk spreading it to others. For mumps, the incubation period is between 12 – 25 days. That means people suffering from symptoms may have been exposed more than two weeks before they began feeling ill.

The severity of mumps side effects can vary and the most common and well-known symptom is tender swelling of one or both cheeks. The swelling typically goes away after approximately one week and additional symptoms, such as a low-grade fever, fatigue headache, muscle aches and loss of appetite will likely subside after 3 – 4 days. More severe complications can occur with the virus, such as testicular inflammation. Since 2006, testicular swelling occurred infrequently, with between 3 and 10 percent of infected men experiencing that side effect. The swelling of ovaries is another serious symptom that occurred in less than 1 percent of infected women over the last ten years. In the most severe cases, the virus can lead to meningitis, which is the swelling of the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord. However, since the introduction of the MMR vaccine, these side effects are increasingly rare.

Before the vaccine was available, as many as 66 percent of males with mumps suffered testicular swelling, nearly 4 percent of infected men and women suffered swelling of the pancreas, deafness occurred in one of every 20,000 cases and two in 10,000 cases died. The vaccine is part of the Measles Mumps Rubella shot – commonly referred to as the MMR vaccine – and is typically given to all children in two doses. The initial dose is given just after their first birthday and the second is administered around the time they begin kindergarten (4-6 years of age). The mumps vaccine is estimated to be about 88 percent effective in preventing disease, so breakthrough cases may occur, even in a fully vaccinated community. If you are concerned that you may not be fully vaccinated, check with your doctor and confirm you and your child each have two documented doses of the MMR vaccine.

For more information, please contact your health provider.

Rachel Patterson