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Mumps, a highly contagious viral disease that attacks all ages

D. Alwinsky, M.D. |
Mumps is one of those "modern" diseases: It is easily preventable with a very safe vaccine but we witness its return. So, why is that serious disease back among us?

Rubulavirus, a genus of the Paramyxovirus family, is the cause of mumps. That viral infection attacks the salivary glands and when under the influence of the virus, those glands, located at the base and back of the jaw, swell and create a typical mumps picture of puffy cheeks and the jaw.

Mumps is a highly contagious airborne disease which spreads in a well-known way: When an infected person coughs or sneezes, tiny droplets of contaminated saliva are release into the air, another person breathes them in and we have another infected person.

On top of that, sharing a glass, plate, or some other kitchen utensils with an infected person is also good for mumps spreading and bad for us.

Mumps, like a common cold, can attack all ages, from teens to adults and it can lead to serious implications.

There are inflammation of the brain, meningitis, heart problems, sterility, hearing loss or miscarriage. For unknown reasons, mumps encephalitis affects three times as many males as females.

In the USA, mumps was the main cause of viral encephalitis during the pre-vaccine era, and in 1967 was responsible for 36% of cases of viral encephalitis.

The group with the most risk of complications are teens and adults while it is somewhat lower in young kids.

A problem with mumps is that after the infection it takes around two weeks for symptoms to be visible, although a person may be without symptoms for up to 25 days. We must mention here that the mumps virus is contagious for nine days after the first symptoms.

The characteristic symptom are the puffy cheeks that present its unique and clearly visible picture. But a patient can also experience pain in the face, headaches, fatigue, loss of appetite, and increased body temperature.

When to see the doctor?

Without any doubts, a swollen face or discomfort in the salivary glands is the reason to see the doctor right away. Of course, if those other symptoms are present, there are no doubts what should be done.

Currently, only symptoms can be treated while we are waiting for the body's immune system to defeat the disease. During that time a lot of fluid is recommended, medications for pain and ice or hot compresses on the swollen face can provide comfort.

Children should receive the first dose of the vaccine when they are 12 to 15 months old and their second dose around five years old.

There really is no problem with this disease as it is known for a very long time and we know well facts about it but two things contributed to it to reappear.

The first is the anti-vax movement and parents who refuse to vaccinate their children although mumps vaccine is very safe.

Among the available strains, the rates of vaccine-associated aseptic meningitis vary. However, vaccine-associated meningitis resolves spontaneously in less than a week, and there are no sequelae. Natural mumps infection leads to aseptic meningitis in up to 10% of patients, and this also resolves spontaneously within a week without sequelae.

And the second is the fact that the vaccination's immunity wears off after ten years.

In outbreaks of highly vaccinated populations, disease symptoms are generally milder and complications are less frequent in vaccinated people. People who have not been vaccinated against mumps usually have a much greater mumps attack rate than those who have been fully vaccinated.

And now we are witnessing crazy numbers: After the two-dose MMR program was introduced in 1989, mumps cases decreased by more than 99% but now the number of cases is going up again.

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