Several locations in the developed world, including Ontario, have reported a startling uptick in cases of mumps this year. According to Public Health Ontario, there were 238 confirmed cases in the province in 2017, up from just 24 the year before. In North America, we have been vaccinating against the mumps since the 1960s, but between some parents refusing to vaccinate their children and a newly-discovered gap in vaccinations between 1970 and 1992 in some places, there’s been a sudden rise in the past year.
Here’s what you need to know about the increase in mumps prevalence right now.
Are you at risk?
You are only considered “immune” to the mumps virus if you have received two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Receiving one dose is not enough. Public Health Ontario issued a notice last year that the increase in mumps cases in the province was likely due to people born between 1970 and 1992 only receiving one dose of the vaccine. In 1996, it became mandatory medical practice to administer two doses and it was also common practice between 1992 and 1996. Before that, it is possible people who thought they were adequately protected might not have been.
If you are between the ages of 25 and 50, it’s possible that you fall into this category. You should check your immunization report or with your doctor’s office to find out if you received two doses of the MMR vaccine. It’s also possible that if you did not grow up in Ontario, your risk of only receiving one dose of vaccine is different. If you did not get both doses (or you’re unsure), getting a booster shot is a simple fix that can save you the agony of getting (and spreading) the mumps.
What are mumps anyway?
Mumps is a viral infection that targets the salivary glands around your jaw, usually causing them to swell. Other symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, weakness, fatigue, loss of appetite and pain when swallowing. Symptoms often develop two to three weeks after exposure to the virus, so it can be difficult to pinpoint where you caught it from, especially with the relative scarcity of the illness. Unless you were part of the NHL Mumps Outbreak of 2014. Pretty much everyone knew that one was Sidney Crosby’s fault (it wasn’t actually his fault, he was just the one who got the most publicity and had the most jokes made about his swollen face).
How does it spread?
Mumps is really easy to pass on so if you suspect you or your child have it, it’s best to see a doctor quickly. The virus is passed through saliva so sharing drinks, food or anything else that touches the mouth can pass it around. Even coming in contact with airborne saliva from a cough, sneeze or talking can spread the virus.
Vaccine protection is key
Despite overwhelming evidence that vaccines are crucial to children’s health and that they do not cause Autism or any other developmental problems, there are an increasing number of parents opting out of vaccinating their kids. Mumps is one of the illnesses that had nearly vanished because of the effectiveness of its vaccine and fewer children being vaccinated against it is one factor causing the increase in confirmed cases. According to Public Health England, 2018 has seen a spike in measles cases in the United Kingdom as well – another illness protected against by the MMR vaccine.
The takeaway: get your MMR vaccine (twice) and all your others too.