Nebraska Mumps Outbreak Could Grow

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June 7th, 2016

There are more than 20 confirmed cases of the highly contagious mumps virus in Nebraska. (Image courtesy of wikicommons)

There are more than 20 confirmed cases of the highly contagious mumps virus in Nebraska. (Image courtesy of wikicommons)

The number of reported mumps cases is on the rise. There are now more than 20 confirmed cases of mumps in Nebraska, with more expected. 


There are now at least 23 confirmed cases of mumps in Nebraska. Dr. Tom Safranek, an epidemiologist with Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services said the outbreak started at Midlands University, in Fremont.

“That school term ended and those individuals returned back to their hometowns throughout Nebraska or elsewhere around the country,” Safranek said. “And we’ve seen cases crop up now exported off of campus, and we expect to see maybe additional generations of mumps as it spreads from one person to another.”

 Symptoms of mumps include swollen glands, head and muscle aches, weakness, and loss of appetite. It’s a highly contagious virus transmitted from person to person through saliva. Things like coughing, sneezing, and sharing water bottles can spread the virus.

“The concern we have is waning of immunity. In fact, all of the kids we’ve looked at had two doses of the mumps vaccine,” Safranek said, “but they have waning of immunity. Given the close proximity and given what we call ‘social factors’ where these folks are in close contact with each other, it sets up a scenario where the virus can spread.”

The mumps vaccine is distributed as part of the series of shots through the MMR vaccine -measles, mumps, and rubella.

First doses are usually given at 1 year of age, the second dose just before kindergarten.

“So that 2 dose series, by the time you’re hitting 17 and 18 (years old), you’re hitting a percentage of the population where the antibody against the mumps is dropping, and they become susceptible to the mumps virus,” Safranek said.

He continued, “We haven’t gotten to the point of routinely recommending a third dose of a mumps containing vaccine. However there are some settings where we feel there is an opportunity to do some prevention. Based on a lot of different factors, there are instances where we do recommend a sub-set of the population—some special group—get a third dose of the vaccine.”

 Safranek described those special groups as a controlled population “in a circumscribed situation like a school, or some institution where there are new individuals reporting in. It could be cases like a military setting, where you have new enlistees coming into the setting and you say ‘gosh, we’ve had [mumps] circulating here. We want to make sure those new enlistees don’t get sick and we want them to get about their training.’ You might vaccinate incoming [people] into that situation.”

Safranek said people born before 1957 probably already had the mumps, and will have an enduring immunity to the virus. Which means people between the ages of 18 and 60 are at a higher risk of contracting mumps, if exposed.

So far, there haven’t been any reported cases of mumps outside of Nebraska that can be traced back to the Midlands University outbreak, but Safranek said he wouldn’t be surprised if that does happen.

Safranek said they haven’t discovered the “ground zero” patient of the Northwestern outbreak, because tracking that down isn’t always as easy as people think.

“One of the problems with these folks who’ve had two doses of the vaccine, when they do get their mumps infection it may not be as florid,” Safranek said. “It may not stand out. They may have a milder illness. They may not even seek medical attention. There can be some asymptomatic shedding, especially even before they come down with their symptoms.”

Covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing and washing your hands are two of the best ways to prevent spreading mumps. Doctors said anyone who contracts the mumps virus should be isolated from other people, for about a week. If you’ve been exposed to the virus, or think you’ve already contracted it, contact your doctor.

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