Student health: Mumps

Renaise Kim / The Watchdog

Since April 14, 285 cases of mumps have been identified in King County, with 140 being confirmed and 145 being probable cases. Out of those cases, 150 are 17 years and younger. According to the King County weekly mumps update, Auburn leads the list with 150 cases and Seattle comes in second with 43 reported cases. With an outbreak occurring at the University of Washington, the Washington state Department of Health and King County Public Health have recently begun focusing on intervention and preventative measures.

Mumps is a viral infection that can spread quickly through airborne transmission. If one encounters another who has mumps, the virus can be transmitted through coughing, sneezing, talking or sharing utensils or cups. The virus manifests in individuals with symptoms similar to the flu: Headaches, weakness, fatigue or loss of appetite. What distinguishes the mumps from the common flu, however, is the swelling of “one of three pairs of saliva-producing glands, situated below and in front of your ears,” according to the Mayo Clinic, which would make the cheeks painful and swell.
Although the virus is centralized in these salivary glands, there is a possibility of it spreading throughout the body. Some of the most serious complications of mumps are swelling of the pancreas, brain, membranes and fluid around the brain and spinal cord or swelling of ovaries and testicles, which in rare cases will lead to sterility and fertility issues. The swelling of these regions is rare, but it’s important to notice the symptoms and seek help.

Currently, the DOH has a few intervention methods to control the outbreak and provide help to infected individuals. “The state department of public health is working with local health offices to offer health education, tests for mumps and immunization services,” said DOH Child and Adolescent Health Educator Danielle Koenig. In addition, the DOH is providing laboratory testing, disease investigation services and educational resources and services for communities with the mumps outbreak. “We’re working with the CDC to find the source of the outbreak,” added Koenig.

A measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, MMR, is the only available vaccine against the mumps as well as measles and rubella, both a form of viral infections. “The most important thing anyone can do is to get the vaccine or make sure it is renewed,” explained Koenig, “Nine out of 10 do get lasting protection from it. It’s really great at protecting you from complications since only one out of 10 have noticed complications.”

“When we give MMR to people, what we are wanting to happen is we want the body to generate its own antibodies and that’s what makes the protection,” explained Dr. Suzanne Beltz, associate dean of nursing at Bellevue College with more than 50 years of clinical nursing experience. “A lot of people can carry the virus without even knowing it. They have the mild case of the mumps, so they don’t know that they have it. They don’t really have symptoms.” Due to the incubation period, typically between 16-18 days, an infected person may carry the virus but only begin to experience symptoms around two to three weeks after initial exposure.

If an individual is immunized, then other methods can be taken to ensure protection. “Lots of handwashing, cover your coughs and good hygiene. If you’ve been immunized, the chances of developing the mumps is still low,” said Beltz.

If one suspects an exposure to mumps, it is necessary to first speak to a physician. “First thing you should do is contact your health care provider or your clinic for advice. Ask them to evaluate you for possible mumps,” advised Koenig, “Don’t just show up and call beforehand because they might ask you to enter in a separate way. Once you are at the clinic, make sure to avoid being near people and when you’re at home, try to avoid getting in contact with family and friends.”

“Drink plenty of fluids and watch your fever. Generally, doctors will prescribe acetaminophen or Tylenol for the fever,” added Beltz. Applying cold compress or an ice pack to inflamed regions is also recommended.

An uncomplicated case of mumps will normally be resolved with treatment in two weeks. “As a general rule, you’re no longer considered contagious and may safely return to work or school one week after a diagnosis of mumps,” said the Mayo Clinic.