Mumps outbreaks in detention centers bring attention back to the disease

Reports of recent mumps outbreaks in detention centers have put the spotlight back on a disease whose presence in the United States had dropped dramatically since the 1960s. News reports indicate that over 2,200 people in two immigration detention centers have been exposed to mumps, resulting in a 25-day quarantine of those detainees that began in early March. Of the 2,200, 236 confirmed or probably cases had been reported by authorities.

What is mumps?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines mumps as a contagious disease caused by a virus. It often results in swollen salivary glands and other symptoms include fever, headache, muscle ache, and loss of appetite. The swelling of the salivary glands causes puffy cheeks and swollen jaws. The swelling generally reaches its highest point within one-to-three days of the initial appearance. Within one week, the swelling usually subsides. Fever may last for up to four days. People who contract the virus usually recover completely within a few weeks.

The United States began a mumps vaccination program in 1967. Before then, about 186,000 cases were reported annually. Since the vaccination program was implemented, only a few hundred cases are generally confirmed each year, marking a decrease of about 99%. The vaccine is called MMR because it simultaneously covers measles, mumps and rubella.

Despite vaccination success, outbreaks still occur

In recent history, mumps outbreaks have been reported primarily in areas where the vaccination rate is very low. From early 2016 through mid-2017, 150 outbreaks in which 9,200 cases were reported occurred among schools, athletic teams, church groups and workplaces. These outbreaks arose in Arkansas, Iowa and Illinois. The largest outbreak was reported in a community in northwest Arkansas. Over 3,000 cases were confirmed.

In 2009 and 2010, 3,000 people were involved in an outbreak in New York City. Those individuals were part of a religious community and attended schools and participated in athletic activity that helps spread mumps. The source of the outbreak was said to be a student who had returned from an area of the United Kingdom where widespread mumps cases were reported.

Another outbreak during that period involved 500 reported cases in the U.S. Territory of Guam, mainly among school-aged children.

Detention center conditions conducive to outbreaks

Because mumps is a contagious virus, people in close proximity have a higher probability of spreading and contracting the disease. The possible low vaccination rate of those in detention facilities may also play a part in the spread among detainees. The probability of mumps increases among those who a common living space and participate in collective activities. Contact and with others and with items touched by those infected is a notable way the disease is passed from one person to another. CDC cites coughing, sneezing and even talking as ways to spread mumps. Sharing items such as cups and eating utensils and touching other surfaces that may have been exposed to the virus also raise the probability of contracting the disease.

Mumps prevention

The best way to prevent mumps is vaccination. The MMR vaccine can be administered to children and CDC recommends an initial vaccine for those between twelve and fifteen months of age and a second dose for children between the ages of four and six.

Students in educational institutions beyond high school who were not immunized as children should have two vaccines separated by 28 days. Adults with no immunization record should receive one MMR vaccine.

Those who travel internationally should be especially aware of the need for vaccination. MMR should be administered by a physician to any adult, teenager or child who intends to leave the United States.

To learn more about mumps, log on to vascularhealthclinics.org.