By Marcy Stamper
County and state health officials are urging people to be sure they are immunized against mumps, in light of 98 cases in the state as of this week.
The majority of cases (84) are in King County, with the rest in Pierce, Yakima and Spokane counties. But J.J. Bellinger, environmental health specialist for Okanogan County Public Health, warned that with upcoming holiday travel — local residents visiting Seattle or Tacoma and tourists coming here — spread of the contagious disease is possible.
Mumps is a virus that spreads through saliva. 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 exhibit no symptoms at all, according to the state Department of Health.
Mumps can also cause swelling of other glands such as the testicles and, in serious cases, can lead to male infertility, said Bellinger.
Mumps can be serious in some people, leading to hearing loss, swelling of the covering of the brain and spinal cord, or brain damage, according to the health department.
“While most people who get mumps will have a mild illness which goes away within a week or so, some people may experience serious health complications,” said Kathy Lofy, the state health officer.
There is no specific treatment. The illness lasts a week to 10 days in most cases.
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.
Because the vaccination rate in the Methow Valley tends to be lower than in other parts of the county, Bellinger expressed concern 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.