NEW YORK (AP) — Fifty years ago, mumps was once a childhood rite of passage of puffy cheeks and swollen jaws. That all changed with the arrival of a vaccine in the late 1960s, and mumps nearly disappeared.
But now the U.S. is in the midst of one of the largest surges in decades. Arkansas has been hardest hit, but schools and college campuses in many states have been contending with outbreaks.
Some basics about the illness and the situation:
WHAT IS MUMPS?
Mumps is caused by a virus. It's contagious and spread through coughing and sneezing. Common symptoms are fever, headache, and painfully swollen salivary glands that can cause puffy cheeks. Most cases occur in children and teens who spread it at schools and dormitories.
Some people never have symptoms. In most others, it is a mild disease that people completely recover from in few weeks. Sometimes it can lead to complications: hearing loss, meningitis and swollen testicles. In rare cases, infections lead to sterility.
HOW COMMON IS IT?
Before the vaccine, roughly 200,000 cases were reported each year. Then the numbers dwindled to around 200 a year. But some years, cases have jumped up. In 2006, there were nearly 6,600 cases, most of them college students in the Midwest.
Cases surged again last year, reaching 5,300 — the bulk of them in Arkansas, Iowa and Oklahoma. High numbers have continued this year, mostly in Arkansas and Missouri, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
WHO GETS THE VACCINE?
The mumps vaccine is part of routine childhood shots. U.S. health officials recommend that by age 6, all children get two doses of a combination vaccine against mumps, measles and rubella. The vaccine is highly effective when children get the shots on schedule, they say, and there has not been any new, mutated mumps strain going around to change that. Yet, most of the children who got sick recently were fully vaccinated, health officials have said.
THE VACCINE DIDN'T WORK?
No vaccine is perfect and it's expected that some people who get the shots will still get mumps. Also, some research suggests that 10 or more years after the second dose, immunity may fade enough to allow outbreaks to take hold. During some outbreaks, like one currently at the University of Missouri, students and others have been offered a third booster dose to increase protection and snuff out the outbreak.
CDC mumps info: