Keys to Mumps Prevention: Immunization and Hygiene
To protect yourself against the mumps, UW Health infectious disease experts say you can take a page from the familiar playbook on flu prevention:
- Get vaccinated
- Practice proper hand hygiene
- And if you do have symptoms, try to avoid contact with other people
"Wash your hands, stay home when you're sick, cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze… It turns out all that stuff grandma used to yell at you for is actually pretty important," says James Conway, MD, a UW Health expert in pediatric infectious disease.
Prior to the 1960s, the viral infection known as mumps was so common that it essentially became a childhood rite of passage. But as mumps vaccination became common practice in the subsequent decades, the disease was practically eliminated in the United States.
But just like measles, chicken pox and other virtually eradicated infectious diseases, mumps can periodically re-emerge, spreading more easily among those who have not been adequately vaccinated. To protect against this particular mumps outbreak, Dr. Conway and other infectious disease experts say one of the most important things you can do is to check your immunization records.
One dose of the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine is only effective in protecting about 80 percent of people vaccinated from mumps, and effectiveness increases to approximately 90 percent with two doses of the vaccine. Because of this, in 1989 the Centers for Disease Control recommended that all children receive a second dose prior to entering school.
Children typically receive their first dose of the measles, mumps, rubella (MRR) vaccine on or after their first birthday, with the second dose given at 4-6 years of age. At this time, the Wisconsin state Department of Health Services is not recommending that children receive their second dose earlier than usual.
Adults who have not been vaccinated and those who cannot locate their vaccination records should consider getting one dose of the MMR vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
You are considered at higher risk and may benefit from a second dose of vaccine if you work in a health care setting, or at a university, school or day care. College students are also particularly vulnerable because they tend to live in close quarters, where mumps can spread easily. Mumps is spread from person to person through the air or by direct contact with saliva or infected droplets.
If people are unsure about whether they have previously received the vaccine, the state health department says administering an extra dose of MMR has not been shown to increase the risk of adverse events.
"There's nothing wrong with just getting the vaccine if you don't really have a good record," says Dr. Conway.
You are considered immune to mumps if:
- You were born before 1957
- You have a positive mumps titer (a blood test that proves you are immune)
- You have a history of confirmed mumps in the past
- You have received two doses of mumps vaccine
Contact your primary care provider to check your immunization records or if you are interested in getting vaccinated.
Initial symptoms of mumps tend to be fairly non-specific and flu-like, Dr. Conway says. The most common complaints are fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness and loss of appetite followed by swollen and tender salivary glands under the ears, on one or both sides. Potentially serious complications of mumps infection can occur, including hearing loss and aseptic meningitis (infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord), as well as sterility, since the virus can infect both testicles and ovaries.
The CDC advises that anyone with mumps should not go back to child care, school or work for nine days after symptoms begin to prevent spread to other people. People who come in contact with a mumps case should have their immunization status evaluated. They should also be educated about the signs and symptoms of mumps disease and seek medical attention if any of these symptoms begin. There is no treatment available.
Though any outbreak of infectious disease should be taken seriously, Dr. Conway stresses that it's not necessary to panic about the current mumps outbreak.
"I think we're in much better shape in Wisconsin than in other states for a couple of reasons - one is that we've got probably the premier vaccine registry in the nation. The Wisconsin Immunization Registry is an easily accessed, central computer system that's been in place for a long time." says Dr. Conway.
"We also have better immunization coverage rates in this state because we have really strong public health departments and great vaccine advocates, both inside and outside the medical community," Conway added. "So we not only have better penetration of the vaccines; we also have better registration to know who's been vaccinated."
But even when the outbreak begins to wane, Dr. Conway says there is still an important lesson to be learned: Make sure you're up to date with your immunizations, and take advantage of them as much as possible.
"When we become successful at getting rid of vaccine-preventable diseases like we've done with mumps, people tend to forget how potentially serious and annoying these diseases can be," Dr. Conway says. "So we sort of become victims of our own success, and you forget why it's so important to get vaccinated."