The mumps outbreak that has been evident this summer in Long Beach has continued to grow as health experts across the country have begun documenting an unrelated spate of cases in nearly every state, health officials said Tuesday.
Locally, the outbreak has remained concentrated in the barrier island region where multiple suspect cases are under investigation by the State Department of Health, whose officials are working in cooperation with Nassau County health authorities. The state says a combination of confirmed and probable cases has reached 47.
Parsing that number further, 30 mumps cases are listed as fully laboratory confirmed and 17 are considered probable, which means they meet the state’s definition of mumps but have not yet been completely confirmed through tests at Wadsworth Center, the state laboratory in Albany.
County health department epidemiologists had predicted an expansion of the Long Beach outbreak on Aug. 1, when the first 18 infections were announced. Local health officials posted signs with bright red lettering warning the public about the outbreak in communities neighboring Long Beach, such as the Atlantic Beach area.
Although no new cases have been reported in recent days, a sign that the local upsurge in cases may be waning, it is still too early to determine if the outbreak is shifting downward, local experts say.
Mumps has a long incubation period, experts warn, that can range from 12 to 25 days.
Small clusters of mumps and sizable outbreaks unassociated with the local cases have been documented around the country.
“This has been occurring in around 40 states and the median age is 25,” said Mary Ellen Laurain, spokeswoman for the Nassau County Department of Health, referring to the widespread emergence of mumps.
Laurain said the local outbreak has occurred among people who were fully vaccinated against the ancient infection once considered a rite of passage through childhood. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends two doses of the mumps vaccine for protection.
Dr. Hank Bernstein, a professor of pediatrics at the Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine, said it’s not surprising the outbreak has occurred in an immunized population because “no vaccine is 100 percent perfect.”
“Most cases that have occurred in the last several years among young adults 18 to 25 involved people who had received two doses of the mumps vaccine,” Bernstein said.
The mumps immunization — contained in the mumps, measles and rubella vaccine, the MMR — is generally about 88 percent effective, said Bernstein a former member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on childhood diseases and editor of an online guide about noteworthy pediatric infections.
College campuses have become epicenters of the infection in recent months, according to the State Health Department, which Tuesday noted clusters of mumps cases at schools nationwide, including the State University of New York at Buffalo; Indiana University; University of San Diego; University of Kentucky; University of Southern Maine; Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, and Harvard University.
Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan describes mumps as a contagious viral respiratory infection spread by the airborne droplets from a cough or sneeze. Often, the infectious agent is passed by touching contaminated surfaces and from the contaminated hands of one person to another, he said.
“Hand-washing is the best defense against the mumps and any other infection,” Horovitz said. There is no specific medication to treat mumps.
The signature of a mumps infection, Horovitz said, is the puffiness and pain along the jawline caused by inflammation of the salivary glands, which produces the characteristic chipmunk appearance, he said.
Bernstein added that, in rare instances, the mumps can lead to complications, such as orchitis, an inflammatory condition of the testes in males; and oophoritis, inflammation of the ovaries in females.
“It can affect every major system,” he said of other rare manifestations of the infection, which can include inflammation of the pancreas as well as viral inflammation of the brain — encephalitis — and inflammation of the tissue protecting the brain — meningitis.
Nassau County health officials offer this advice to individuals about mumps:
1.) Common symptoms include low-grade fever, muscle aches, fatigue and loss of appetite
2.) Do not share drinks, food, eating utensils or other personal items that may contain saliva
3.) 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
4.) Wash hands frequently with soap and water. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
5.) Cover nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Dispose of the tissue in the trash. If a tissue is unavailable, cough or sneeze into the upper portion of a sleeve or elbow, not your hands