Mumps cases have surged in Long Beach and surrounding communities — about 18 so far — but Nassau County public-health investigators expect more to emerge in the coming weeks.
Cases under investigation in what is to date a limited outbreak mostly involve young adults who have or had mumps-like symptoms.
The Nassau County Department of Health is investigating the rise in mumps incidence in consultation with the state health department.
Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of the infectious-diseases division at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, said it’s obvious the outbreak is not widespread because there have been no signs of a mumps upsurge elsewhere in Nassau. There have been no cases treated at his hospital, a division of Northwell Health, he said.
“The vaccine is not 100 percent because there are breakthroughs,” Farber said, describing cases of the infection that have broken out among those who have been vaccinated.
“It used to be thought that the vaccine was foolproof, but unfortunately it turns out that the efficacy of the mumps vaccine is not as effective as people thought or hoped, so there are four or five outbreaks in the New York [metropolitan] area every year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Monday that outbreaks of mumps have been occurring nationwide in highly vaccinated populations. California, however, had seen an upsurge in mumps in recent years, but some of those cases were linked to children whose parents shunned vaccination out of fear of autism. Vaccines, according to the CDC and other health authorities, do not cause the developmental disorder.
Vaccine contrarians aside, outbreaks in well-vaccinated populations have ranged from only a few cases to several hundred, usually affecting young adults, particularly those in crowded living conditions, such as dormitories and military barracks, CDC officials say.
The infection itself is an ancient cause of misery, once a rite of passage in childhood. Before a vaccine was developed in 1967, outbreaks spread at warp speed through nursery and elementary schools. An early mumps vaccine developed in 1948 did not trigger a long-lasting immune response, but later versions proved to be far more effective.
Current mumps vaccines, like any vaccine, prompts the immune system to develop antibodies against the virus. If the pathogen is encountered again, theoretically there is a potent enough army of antibodies endowed with a memory of the virus to quash it, preventing infection.
“It’s a highly contagious airborne virus that is prevented by the MMR vaccine given at 12 months of age and boosters given later on, usually before kindergarten,” Farber said.
Farber and other health experts Monday said the infection has long been called a childhood disease, but there is nothing childlike about the consequences. The mumps can cause painful swelling of one or both parotid glands — also called salivary glands — situated under the tongue and in front of each ear.
Farber said those infected have a temporary “chipmunk” appearance.
Most people fare well during and immediately after the infection, but complications can include swelling of the brain’s protective covering, permanent deafness and painful testicular swelling in males.
Nassau County Health Commissioner Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein is advising individuals who may have been exposed or are experiencing symptoms consistent with mumps to contact their health care provider. He said there are “everyday” simple steps that can be taken to stop the spread of the infection in its tracks:
- Do not share drinks, food, eating utensils or other personal items that may contain saliva.
- Individuals who are ill with these symptoms should stay home and away from public places for five days after the onset of symptoms and limit contact with others in their household.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water is not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
“There will probably be more cases,” Farber said. “These outbreaks will not go away.”
A PRIMER ON MUMPS
- Mumps is a contagious respiratory infection caused by a virus transmitted through airborne droplets of a cough or sneeze; or, direct contact with an infected surface.
- Best recognized for causing a “chipmunk” appearance, the result of swollen salivary glands. Common symptoms include low-grade fever, muscle aches, fatigue and loss of appetite.
- Symptoms typically appear 16 to 18 days after infection, but the period can range from 12 to 25 days. There is no treatment.
- The CDC recommends one dose of mumps vaccine for anyone exposed to someone with the virus. Anyone who has not been vaccinated should strongly consider it.
- Symptoms can be more severe in adults than in children.
- Herd immunity — living in communities with high levels of vaccination — can serve as a barrier to protect the unvaccinated against infection. But that does not always happen, experts say.
- Mumps is not spread by pets. Only humans catch and spread the virus.
SOURCES: Nassau County Department of Health; CDC; Dr. Bruce Farber, Northwell Health