The University of Washington sent out an official email in February alerting all students of the mumps outbreak on campus and within the state. The email outlined basic facts and suggested some precautions, but knowing more about the disease as it continues to spread gives students the power to slow its progress together.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of mumps cases range from several hundred to 1,000 on a normal annual basis nationwide. However, throughout 2016 and the beginning of 2017, there have been more than 6,000 cases.
Washington state alone reported more than 600 of those incidences in the middle of February, and the King County count was at 264 (confirmed and probable combined) as of March 31. Around 45 percent of the King County mumps cases occurred in those 18 years of age and older.
The UW reported only 12 cases at the beginning of March, which increased to 20 by March 19.
Most physicians recommend vaccination against the mumps, which is usually given in childhood in the form of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine. While there is ongoing research into changing the standard to three doses, the CDC reports that the current standard of two doses prevents mumps in around 88 percent of cases. Just one dose can still help prevent about 78 percent of cases.
The research-based Mayo Clinic describes the name “mumps” as coming from an old term for lumps and bumps in the cheeks. The CDC describes the most notable, and namesake, symptom of mumps as “puffy cheeks and swollen jaw,” which is due to inflammation of salivary glands near the ear. However, this symptom doesn’t appear in every case of mumps.
Both the CDC and Mayo Clinic agree that other symptoms may include fevers, headaches, muscle aches, fatigue, loss of appetite, and tenderness of the cheeks and jaw.
As with the facial swelling, these symptoms also may not appear in every case. To complicate matters further, symptoms such as swelling and fever may be indications of tonsillitis, or inflamed tonsils, rather than mumps.
The CDC says, “Symptoms typically appear 16-18 days after infection, but this period can range from 12-25 days after infection.” This means, of course, that by the time symptoms appear, it’s very likely it has already unknowingly been spread. Still, every person, infected or not, has a role to play in slowing the mumps outbreak by understanding appropriate treatment and exercising the common sense that helps stop the spread of all communicable diseases.
Because mumps is a virus, it cannot be treated with antibiotics like a bacterial infection can.
Rest is always one of the best treatments, with the added benefit of isolation. Some of the uncomfortable mumps symptoms can be alleviated with pain killers like ibuprofen, found in Advil, and acetaminophen, found in Tylenol.
This does not mean you should skip the doctor visit, though. Virus cultures and blood tests are two possible ways to determine if your body is really fighting mumps. While there may not be much a doctor can do to speed up your recovery, an accurate report of how mumps is spreading is valuable information.
Before you visit Hall Health or your local provider, call to let them know you might have mumps. They may not want you to be in the waiting room where you could spread the disease to other patients. Physicians may also provide some additional, pre-appointment isolation tips to further limit the risk of spreading the infection.
If you suspect you may have mumps, choose to stay at home away from others.
The virus is spread through saliva and mucus from the mouth, nose, and throat, so sneezing and coughing in crowded public spaces are surefire ways to pass it around. Even just talking releases tiny particles of saliva into the air that can carry the virus, so simple proximity to others really is an issue.
While it might seem obvious not to share a drink with someone who is sick, remember that symptoms don’t always make themselves known. Even using separate spoons or forks in the same dish can be enough to spread mumps and other communicable diseases, so no double dipping. Sneaky saliva sharers, such as lipstick, cigarettes, and other smoking devices, are easy to forget and should not be overlooked. And of course, kissing should be out of the question.
Touching surfaces like handrails, doorknobs, and tables with hands that haven’t been washed can infect others who touch the surface later. Wash your hands frequently to protect yourself and your community.
The current outbreak of mumps is still spreading. If you have symptoms, take precautions to avoid infecting others. Since we are usually contagious before actual symptoms appear, make common sense prevention, such as hand-washing, part of your everyday routine.
Reach writer Olivia Madewell at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @OliviaGMadewell