College students in Texas have been returning from spring break with the mumps.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, 221 cases of mumps were reported in the state this year, which is the highest number since 1994 when 234 cases were reported.
The virus is spread through close personal contact and symptoms usually involve swollen glands, fever, and headache.
A statement made by the health department warned that South Padre Island, a popular spring break destination, was the possible source of several outbreaks throughout Texas.
However, Texans are not the only ones hit with a mumps outbreak. According to a report in ABC News on Thursday, “Last year the U.S. had multiple outbreaks of the mumps resulting in 5,748 total reported cases. Comparatively, there were just 229 cases in 2015. Washington State has had 756 mumps cases since the start of an outbreak last October.”
Infectious disease expert Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University Medical Center explained that unlike other diseases, immunization efforts may not be enough. “Although people are vaccinated, after about 15 years there is some waning of immunity, and if you get a strong exposure, that exposure can overcome that diminished protection and you’ll get a case of mumps,” said Schaffner.
The MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine is typically administered to children two times when they’re babies; however, college students who live and learn in close proximity to their classmates face a higher risk — especially if they travel together. Events such as football games and spring break trips can spread the virus from school to school, warned Schaffner.
“The college environment is such that it provides so many opportunities for close face to face exposure,” he noted.
Officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will be looking into whether or not a third dose of the mumps vaccine could be administered to people during an outbreak.
“CDC is investigating the factors that may be contributing to the increase in cases, including that the vaccine prevents many but not all cases of mumps; the disease spreads more easily in crowded settings; and the possibility [exists] that the protective effect of the vaccine decreases over time,” the CDC said.
Epidemiologists have begun to question whether the virus has mutated, said Schaffner, noting that this could render current vaccines ineffective. “You can see minor variations and the question is, is that enough to evade the protection provided by this vaccine?” he said, noting that it’s too early to know for sure.
According to a statement made by the CDC last month, the vaccine is still effective in children. “Since the pre-vaccine era, there has been a more than 99% decrease in mumps cases in the United States,” they said, noting that prior to the mumps vaccine, there were approximately 186,000 cases of the virus annually in the U.S.
Most people infected with the mumps virus recover without serious complications. However, there are rare cases where the virus can cause inflammation, possibly affecting the testes, the ovaries, the membrane surrounding the brain, and the brain itself.
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