Local counties avoiding mumps

On Friday, reports of mumps in Ohio hit 334 as the outbreak that started in January continues to grow. Of those cases, over 180 have been linked to Ohio State University. The numbers mean Central Ohio now leads the nation in mumps, with about 75 percent of all reported U.S. cases.

The outbreak is mostly concentrated in Columbus and the surrounding areas of Franklin and Delaware counties, but it could expand to other areas if cautionary measures are not taken.

There has been one reported case of mumps in Belmont County, according to the state health department. However, the counties of Jefferson, Harrison, Monroe and Guernsey have so far managed to steer clear of the outbreak.

There have been no cases reported in Ohio County, but Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department Administrator Howard Gamble warns that the outbreak is still a public health risk for West Virginians.

“Mumps is something we don’t hear much about, but when it takes hold it really goes,” said Gamble. “We think these infectious diseases are gone, but they do make a comeback. That’s why we encourage the vaccinations.”

Gamble said reports of mumps in West Virginia and Ohio are generally rare. From 2007 to 2012, there were only nine confirmed cases of mumps throughout West Virginia.

Mumps is prevented by the MMR vaccine, which also protects against measles and rubella. The vaccine is usually given twice throughout childhood, between 12-15 months of age and between four to six years of age. In most states, children must show proof they’ve been vaccinated to enter school. However, adults can also get the MMR vaccine. It is recommended for people who were born after 1956, work in a medical facility, or are planning to become pregnant.

The mumps virus is characterized by swelling in the salivary or parotid glands, which are located just below the ears. This can lead to a “chipmunk cheeks” look. Rashes are also common. Early symptoms can include fever, headache, dry mouth, sore face and/or ears and, in severe cases, loss of voice.

If left untreated, mumps can cause acquired deafness. It can also lead to infertility or subfertility in men.

Local health department officials warn that people should make sure vaccinations are up to date. As college students vacate schools and head for home, they could be carrying the infection without even knowing it. Mumps has a long incubation period, referring to the time between exposure to the disease and the appearance of symptoms. A person who has been infected with mumps becomes contagious approximately six days before symptoms show, and can stay contagious up to ten days after symptoms appear. Mumps is spread through saliva or mucus from the mouth, nose, or throat of an infected person, generally when that person coughs, sneezes, or talks.

The vaccine for mumps was first introduced in the U.S. in 1967. Since then, cases of mumps have steadily decreased. The average number of cases per year since 2001 has been only 265. This is excluding the outlier of 2006, when over 6,000 cases were reported. That outbreak was attributed to university contagion. To summarize, this year’s Ohio mumps outbreak is larger than the U.S. yearly average, but very far from the largest outbreak on record.

On a smaller scale, measles has also seen an outbreak in Ohio, with 54 cases confirmed by the state health department. The counties affected are Ashland, Coshocton, Holmes, Knox, Richland and Wayne. Most of the individuals diagnosed with measles have been recovering on their own without hospitalization.

The measles virus is characterized by fever, runny nose, cough, loss of appetite, and red, watery eyes for about four days, followed by a rash. The rash generally lasts five to six days and begins at the hairline, moves to the face and upper neck, and then proceeds down the body.

No local health departments have any reports of measles, but again, caution is urged as the disease is highly contagious. According to the state health department’s website, the measles outbreak started after unvaccinated travelers returned from a trip to the Philippines.

Warner may be reached at mwarner@timesleaderonline.com.