The Texas Department of State Health Services is reporting that cases of mumps have hit a 20-year high in Texas. This may come as a surprise to those of us who grew up thinking mumps were a thing of the past. For doctors like myself, it is of great concern.
The state has seen 221 cases during the first four months of 2017 alone, the most since 1994 when there were 234 cases during the entire year. Texas health officials say 13 people who traveled to South Padre Island between March 8 and March 22, during the busy spring break season, contracted mumps.
What Is Mumps, Exactly?
Mumps is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus that spreads through coughing and sneezing and sharing cups and utensils. It usually begins with a fever, headache, muscle aches and loss of appetite, symptoms common to other conditions like the flu. However, during the next stage people with mumps typically develop swollen salivary glands under the ears, causing puffy cheeks and a tender, swollen jaw, telltale signs of the mumps. It can also cause painful swelling of the testicles in men, occasionally leading to infertility.
Symptoms typically appear 16 to18 days after infection. However, some people have very mild or no symptoms and do not know they have the disease.
How Is Mumps Treated?
Mumps is a virus, so it does not respond to antibiotics or other medications. Of course, the best way to prevent mumps is to be vaccinated even though people who are vaccinated can become infected.
Before the U.S. mumps vaccination program started in 1967, mumps was a widespread disease, especially among children. Thanks to the MMR vaccine (mumps, measles and rubella), prior to recent outbreaks there was a more than 99 percent decrease in mumps cases in the country.
Even if you and your children had the recommended two doses of the MMR vaccine, it’s only about 88 percent effective. If it’s been more than 15 years since vaccination, the effectiveness goes down to about 85 percent. Obviously, once you’ve been vaccinated, one of the things you can do to help avoid contracting mumps is avoid others who have it and practice frequent hand washing. Another option is to get an updated vaccine, especially if it’s been more than 15 years.
If you or your child do contract mumps, there are some things you can do to treat the symptoms and create a more comfortable situation.
- Rest, especially when your body is telling you to.
- Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to control fever.
- Soothe swollen glands with ice packs.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Eat a soft diet of foods that are easy to chew.
- Avoid acidic foods and drinks that may cause more pain in your salivary glands.
How Long Does Mumps Last?
Most people with mumps recover completely in a few weeks. Within a week after diagnosis, you can typically return to work or school as you will no longer be contagious. But if you don’t feel up to it and your body still needs rest, I would advise that you listen to your body. The mumps will run its course in a few weeks.
Like chicken pox, most people who have had mumps cannot contract it again.
Dr. Melanie Mouzoon, F.A.A.P., is a pediatric hospitalist and managing physician for Immunization Practices and Travel Medicine at Kelsey-Seybold.