By Marcy Stamper

Washington state is seeing the largest outbreak of mumps since the 1970s, with 533 cases as of Feb. 27, including one case confirmed in an adult in Okanogan County last week.

The largest number of cases, 235, are in Spokane County, closely followed by King County with 205, and Pierce with 54. Other counties have just a handful of cases.

As of last week, there were 251 confirmed cases of mumps and 282 probable cases statewide, according to David Johnson, a public information officer with the Washington Department of Health.

“We hadn’t had mumps in Washington in a long time, but I would categorize the outbreak as widespread. It’s been a continuous upwards trend of new cases. As long as vulnerable people are exposed, it may continue to grow,” said Johnson.

Okanogan County and state health officials began urging people in December to be sure they were immunized against mumps, since there were already 98 cases before the end of last year.

Mumps is a virus that spreads through coughing, sneezing or other contact with saliva. It is as contagious as flu. Those infected with mumps are usually contagious before symptoms appear and for a few days after, so they can spread the virus without realizing it. People who think they have mumps should not go to work, school or public places.

Symptoms include low-grade fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite. The most distinctive symptom is swelling of the cheeks, neck or jaw, although not everyone experiences this, and some people exhibit no symptoms at all, according to the Health Department.

Mumps can also cause swelling of other glands such as the testicles and, in serious cases, can lead to male infertility, said J.J. Bellinger, environmental health specialist for Okanogan County Public Health.

Most people who get mumps will have a mild illness that lasts a week to 10 days. There is no specific treatment.

Vaccination with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is the best protection against mumps. Two doses of the vaccine are about 88-percent effective at preventing infection, according to the health department so, for every 100 vaccinated people exposed to mumps, only 12 are at risk of getting sick. If they do get sick, they tend to have a milder form of the disease, according to the Health Department.

Because the vaccination rate in the Methow Valley tends to be lower than in other parts of the county, Bellinger said she was concerned that the disease could get a foothold here.

Children should be vaccinated with two doses of the MMR vaccine, and adults should have at least one mumps vaccination. People born before 1957 are considered immune because they probably had mumps, but everyone born in 1957 or later should be vaccinated, according to health officials.

For more information about mumps and recommended vaccination schedules, visit www.doh.wa.gov/mumps or call Public Health at (509) 422-7140 or the state immunization hotline at 1-866-397-0337.

Flu widespread

By mid-February, flu had also been categorized as widespread in Washington. Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, stuffy nose and body aches. Some people may have vomiting or diarrhea.

The flu virus can spread to others before someone knows he or she is sick. Adults can infect others one day before symptoms develop and for up to five days after becoming sick, and kids can spread the virus for 10 or more days.

People with the flu should stay home from work and school until at least 24 hours have passed without fever.

While flu shots take up to two weeks to provide full protection, the state Health Department says it isn’t too late to be vaccinated.

The Health Department provides flu vaccine to all kids under 19 at no cost. Health care providers may charge a fee for the vaccine.

Call the family health hotline at 1-800-322-2588 for information about the flu vaccine and where to get it.