by Ean Jury
Over the past four decades, the mumps have become almost extinct thanks to the creation and administration of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Recently, however, the mumps virus has gained notoriety and media attention in our community after the confirmed diagnosis of 21 NHL players. Many of the players have already been vaccinated against the disease. Has the vaccine started to lose its effectiveness?
Contrary to popular belief, the MMR vaccine does not completely eliminate the possibility of contracting the virus, but it does significantly lower the likelihood and may prevent serious complications after contraction.
According to Dr. Jim Sample, an emergency physician at Westmoreland Hospital Emergency Room, “Even with the vaccination, the mumps virus is highly contagious.
Like the flu, it can spread through coughing and sneezing. Out of the three viruses that the vaccine protects against, the MMR vaccine is the least effective against the mumps. In fact, it’s only about 78 percent effective.”
According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control Prevention), there are over 1,000 reported cases of the mumps each year. While that number may seem large or unlikely, the CDC believes that thousands more remain undiagnosed. This may be due to the MMR vaccine’s ability to lessen the severity of the symptoms.
“The mumps are often overlooked because the symptoms are mild or similar to other acute illnesses,” said Dr. John Peoples, an emergency physician at Frick Emergency Room. “Many people think that the only symptom of the mumps is a swollen face. But that’s not accurate. Parotits, or swelling of the salivary glands, only occurs in about half of all cases. In addition, about 20 percent of all sufferers experience no symptoms at all.”
The most common symptoms are similar to the flu, including high fever, body aches, nausea, and headache. The trademark of the mumps, however, is severe pain in one or both of the parotid glands, which worsens with chewing and swallowing.
While the short-term symptoms of the mumps may not seem severe, if left untreated, the long-term effects can be devastating. Mumps can lead to encephalitis, swelling of the brain, and meningitis, swelling and infection of the spinal cord. Both diseases are dangerous and potentially life-threatening.
“Before the MMR vaccine, hundreds of thousands of people suffered from the mumps each year. In order to diminish the chance of contracting and spreading these viruses, children should get vaccinated,” said Dr. Sample. “The risks of severe complications from catching the mumps far outweigh the risks of vaccination.”