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Mumps, a highly contagious disease once largely eradicated by vaccines, is spreading in Maricopa County on a scale not seen in decades, the county health department announced yesterday. Some mumps symptoms can be flu-like, but the disease can lead to painful, swollen testicles or ovaries, and in rare cases decreased fertility and even deafness.
“Since August, we have seen 12 cases of mumps in Maricopa County, which is five times the number of cases we would expect to see in that time frame,” health department spokesperson Sonia Singh told North Phoenix News. “Most of these cases did not have any international travel, so we know that it is spreading locally.”
Other states have experienced outbreaks in recent years, too.
Mumps is caused by a virus that can spread through saliva or mucus from the mouth, nose or throat, through kissing or by sharing food, drinks, utensils or even cigarettes or lip gloss. Initial symptoms are typically fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That can make mumps difficult to diagnose, especially without a doctor involved. The disease can also cause facial swelling and tender salivary glands under the ears or jaw.
A person with mumps is thought to be contagious a day or two before they realize they’re infected and symptoms begin.
“This is the first community-wide mumps outbreak that Maricopa County has seen in decades and serves as a reminder of why it’s so important to get vaccinated for diseases that we can prevent,” said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for disease control at Maricopa County Department of Public Health. “Many healthcare providers have never seen a patient with mumps, so it is important for everyone to know there is an outbreak. It’s OK to ask your provider to test for mumps if you have symptoms.”
Before the mumps vaccine was introduced in 1967, the disease was common in children, causing about 186,000 cases a year in the United States but infecting far more people whose cases were not reported, according to the CDC. Since then, there’s been a 99% decline in cases, the CDC says, as most children received the MMR vaccine, protecting against measles, mumps, and rubella.
“Some vaccinated people may still get mumps if they are exposed to the virus,” the CDC says. “However, disease symptoms are milder in vaccinated people.”
Since 2006, outbreaks have been cropping up.
Anyone who thinks they or their child has mumps should see a healthcare provider, hospital emergency room or urgent care center, the health department advises. Call ahead, however, to let them know you may have mumps to so they can prepare to avoid having others exposed in the waiting room, officials say.