With the temperatures finally cooling, the smell of fall in the air, and Halloween just around the corner, the word “mumps” may induce ideas of spooky grandeur: bumps on a warted toad or lumps on a disfigured zombie. But when a news headline reads “Arkansas Battling Mumps Outbreak With Over 400 Possible Cases,” these conjurings are hardly grandeur but rather cold, hard facts. Arkansas has been hit with an unparalleled scare of a potential mumps outbreak in the northwest regions of Madison, Benton, and Washington counties. Hundreds of cases are being investigated and people are learning the harsher realities of contracting the mumps.
But what exactly are the mumps? And are the mumps potentially lethal? According to the CDC, the mumps is a contagious viral disease affecting the salivary glands. The mumps, caused primarily by the rubulavirus family, is spread easily from infected individuals through moisture droplets in the air (i.e. sneezing or coughing) and is especially contractible in congested areas such as playgrounds and classrooms. The virus multiplies during the 14-24 day incubation period with symptoms including swelling of the salivary glands, fever, headache, muscle ache, malaise, and loss of appetite quickly following. Temperatures can even reach a Tmax of 104°F. Once the virus hits the bloodstream, its effects can spread throughout the body’s systems. Men and boys sometimes see an enlargement and inflammation of the testicles and, in severe cases of the mumps, serious complications can include deafness, encephalitis, meningitis, and nerve damage (all due to inflammation caused by the presence of this unwanted foreign pathogen).
The mumps are no joking matter and antibiotics won’t do the trick (since this is a viral infection). If infected, medications can help alleviate symptoms but the virus will simply have to run its course. On the other hand, the mumps can easily be prevented. The CDC recommends the MMR vaccination series of at least four injections with the first dose given after 1 year of age and the second dose given before entering school (around 4-6 years old). MMR stands for Measles, Mumps, and Rubella and is part of the standard vaccination calendar for any child born after 1957, as those adults born before 1957 are considered immune. Mumps were actually one of the leading causes of deafness in children prior to the implementation of the MMR vaccine.
The current situation in Arkansas is investigating almost 400 cases of the mumps. This bump in mumps, if you will, has increased the total number of cases up nearly to 2,000 for this year alone- a dramatic increase from the reported 229 cases back in 2012. Know the signs, know the symptoms, and get to know the MMR vaccine if this has not been part of your immunization history. Mumps are not just a thing of the past anymore.