Why Mumps are Making a Comeback - Despite Vaccinations

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It was decades ago that U.S. children began squirming over not one, but two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination (one as an infant and a booster at age 6). Yet today mumps are on the rise, especially among college students. At James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, for example, 24 cases have been confirmed since January.

As reported in Science magazine, two Harvard researchers think they know why. Based on data compiled in the U.S. and Europe between 1967 and 2008, they found that the immunity provided by the vaccine lasts on average just 27 years.

Premier Health Now asked Matthew Bauer, DO, of Middletown Infectious Disease Associates what can be done to minimize the risk of developing mumps. “I think it’s important for parents and kids to know that if they are exposed to an active outbreak, they can get a booster that will decrease symptoms and complications if they develop the mumps.” But he’s not convinced that everyone should rush to get one. “Unless your risk is high for being near people who have the mumps, I don’t think a booster is necessary,” he says.

As for a possible cause, Dr. Bauer says, “Not all countries adhere to the same vaccinations as we do. With so much travelling these days, it’s not surprising that mumps would be brought into our country and result in cluster outbreaks.” He believes most outbreaks can be avoided by following current protocol, which is having children vaccinated with two doses by age 6. “This creates a ‘herd immunity’ — the resistance to the spread of a contagious disease within a population.”

Mumps is a virus that can be spread through coughing, sneezing and kissing. Telltale signs are puffy cheeks from swollen salivary glands, fever, headache, muscle aches, fatigue and loss of appetite. Most recover with no lasting effect. Although unlikely, severe cases can lead to deafness or infertility in men and women.

As always, consult your health care provider for questions about the mumps vaccine for yourself or your family.

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Matthew D. Bauer, DO

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