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Mumps Outbreaks Are the Highest They've Been in a Decade

Photograph by Twenty20

Still worried about Zika virus? Well, there’s a new problem in town, and it’s one you’ve probably heard of many times before but thought you were completely safe from: the mumps. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diagnoses of mumps cases are the highest they've been in a decade.

The 2016 mumps outbreak is the biggest one since 2006, and has hit almost every single state with a total of 3,832 cases reported for the year through the end of November. This could prove to be a serious problem for kids all the way through the college years, since mumps is a contagious disease caused by a virus. The number of reported cases this year is three times more than last year's count.

Typically, children receive two mumps vaccines; the first dose is recommended at 12-15 months of age and the second dose at 4-6 years of age (around kindergarten). And the vaccine is effective—but not 100 percent. After one dose of the MMR vaccine, there's a 78 percent chance of not getting infected, and an 88 percent chance of no infection after the second dose. However, the vaccine may diminish over time—which may be why the 2016 mumps outbreak is hitting colleges so hard. Most kids don't receive a mumps booster as they head to college.

Typically spread by infected saliva, this might just be the new "kissing disease." (Remember when concerned parents believed that was just mononucleosis?) It’s been especially present in the areas where young people live, work and play. Some universities are already taking precautions and urging their students to get a third MMR vaccination.

The last large outbreak of mumps happened in 2006 when more than 6,500 cases were recorded, primarily among college students in the Midwest.

"The underlying theme of where outbreaks do occur are in congregate settings," CDC medical officer Dr. Manisha Patel told CNN. With college campuses and other community areas of close contact are “typical for mumps,” which is spread through the sharing of saliva.

Meanwhile, doctors are warning to take precautions because mumps does not respond to antibiotics. Receiving a third dose of the vaccine is only one of the options to keep safe. And it may not be your best one.

"Studies that have tried to examine the effectiveness of a third dose of MMR vaccine to control mumps outbreaks were limited because vaccination occurred after the outbreak started to decline," Huong McLean, an associate research scientist at the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation (which has partnered with the CDC on the issue) told CNN.

If you or your child are feeling flu-like symptoms and have swollen glands, make sure to visit your family physician. In the meantime, besides getting an additional dose of the vaccine, doctors advise at-risk (and sick) people to cover their mouths when coughing and to wash their hands since mumps is highly contagious. Just because you aren't living in close quarters with others on a college campus doesn't mean your family can't come down with the mumps.

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