Outbreaks of the viral disease mumps reached a 10-year high in 2016, according to preliminary data by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
There were 5,311 cases of mumps reported to the CDC in 2016 from 46 states and the District of Columbia, according to the agency.
And there are currently 469 confirmed and probable cases of mumps across 10 counties in Washington state, according to the state’s Department of Health.
Outbreaks fluctuate from year to year. The last time there was a higher number of outbreaks was in 2006, when there were about 6,500 cases reported to the CDC.
The symptoms and how to protect yourself
Common symptoms of mumps include a fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, loss of appetite and swollen and tender salivary glands. Although some people may not exhibit any symptoms, people tend to recover after a few weeks, according to the CDC.
Mumps can be the most severe for adults, according to the CDC. About 15 out of 100 adults diagnosed with mumps develop meningitis. Adults with mumps can also develop pancreatitis. Being diagnosed with mumps while pregnant has also been linked to miscarriages, according to the agency.
The CDC states that serious complications from mumps are less likely if a person is vaccinated.
People can be protected against mumps through the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. The vaccine is given when a person turns 1 year old and is boosted when they are between 4 and 6 years old, according to John Moore, D.O., FAAFP, Aetna’s medical director for the U.S. Northeast Region.
“When you have the mumps vaccine, you’re well protected,” Moore said. “It’s possible for you to contract mumps later in life if you come in contact with an infected individual, but your illness should be mild due to being previously vaccinated.”
In fact, the vaccine is 88 percent effective when a person gets two doses and about 78 percent effective when they receive one dose, according to the CDC. The agency adds it’s still possible for outbreaks to occur in highly vaccinated communities, but getting vaccinated limits the size and spread of an outbreak.
Outbreaks among college campuses
The CDC attributes crowded environments to being a large factor in spreading mumps and causing outbreaks. Because the virus is spread through saliva or mucus – similar to the common cold – there’s an increased chance for someone to contract mumps if there are more people around, such as people who live in close quarters in a dormitory, or dine together in a cafeteria.
Outbreaks among college campuses and in schools ranged from a few to several hundred cases, according to the agency.
“The outbreaks on college campuses have been so problematic that there’s been talk of adding a second booster to the regimen to prevent this,” Moore explained. “Some college campuses have offered and provided a third dose of their student body in an effort to reduce the risk of a mumps outbreak or to minimize an active outbreak.”
A third dose, however, is not yet a “standard recommendation for adolescents and young adults,” Moore added.
What to do if you’re infected
Because mumps is caused by a virus, Moore advises against taking antibiotics. Antibiotics are used to treat conditions caused by bacterial infections and have no effect on viral infections. Improper use of antibiotics leads to the development of resistant bacteria, or superbugs, Moore cautioned.
“Treatment of mumps involves providing symptomatic treatment while the illness runs its course over 1 to 2 weeks,” he said.
Symptomatic treatment involves rest, avoiding exposure to others, using ice to relieve pain from painful lymph nodes or using ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain, aches and fever.