Life / Health

Anatomy of a mumps outbreak: Expert advice and all you need to know

A recent spate of mumps outbreaks in Canada has health experts reminding people about the importance of vaccines.

A pediatrician holds a dose of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine at his practice

Associated Press File

A pediatrician holds a dose of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine at his practice

A recent spate of mumps outbreaks in Canada has health experts reminding people about the importance of vaccines.

Mumps is a virus that causes the easily recognizable swelling of salivary glands. Most people recover within seven to 10 days but in rare cases people can develop complications, including deafness and meningitis, according to Health Canada.

Parents in Canada are advised to have their children receive two doses of the MMR vaccine – it protects people against the measles, mumps, and rubella.

Health authorities say it is normal to see a handful of mumps cases in provinces every year but outbreaks still occur because the disease is highly contagious and because Canada has not achieved herd immunity.

Unlike the measles, where an outbreak only occurs when a traveller brings it into the country, the mumps virus still exists in Canada, said Dr. Monika Naus, the director of immunization and vaccine preventable disease at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

A 2007 Health Canada pilot program found about 83 to 87 per cent of two-year-olds in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba were up to date with their mumps vaccines. Everyone in the country would have to get two doses of the mumps vaccine in order to achieve herd immunity, where the general population is protected against mumps. Without herd immunity, outbreaks can still occur, she said.

We asked Dr. Naus important questions about the mumps vaccine:

How can I check to see whether I have been vaccinated?
The best way is to check your immunization record. If people remember where they got their vaccinations, that health provider should provide a record.

How many vaccine doses did I get?
A second dose of mumps vaccine in 1996 was introduced at 16 months of age.
For individuals from about 23 to 47 years of age, most of them will only have had a single dose of mumps vaccine.

What if I’m an immigrant who did not grow up in Canada?
If you immigrated from outside of Western Europe and North America, then there is an excellent chance that you weren’t vaccinated against mumps. Mumps vaccines are not used in most of the developing world. For individuals like that, we recommend getting a mumps vaccine.

How effective is the mumps vaccine?
After one dose, about 80 per cent of people will be immune. After two doses, just over 90 per cent of people will have immunity. Everyone would have to get two doses in order to achieve herd immunity.

Is it possible to check whether I am immune to mumps?
For many vaccinations, an antibody level can be checked and if it is above a certain level, we can determine immunity. For mumps, we don’t have that kind of certainty. So there’s no point checking the antibody after the vaccine.

Does it hurt to get another mumps vaccine if I’m not sure whether I need a booster shot or not?
No it doesn’t. If you’re already immune, it won’t do anything. It might boost your immunity.
This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.

Andres Plana/Metro Canada

How the virus spreads: Mumps is a highly contagious disease spread by saliva or mucus

• Usually mumps is spread directly from person to person. When someone with mumps shouts at a bar, people around that person are likely to get infected by the flying spit if they haven’t been vaccinated

• Kissing is a big culprit for the spread of mumps

• People can also spread mumps by sharing utensils and drinking glasses

• But the MMR vaccine is available free nationwide

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