As the recent mumps outbreak in central Ohio grows to more than 200 confirmed cases, health officials are sounding the alarm. While mumps infections are nowhere near epidemic levels despite the recent scare, the potential for outbreaks is increasing, especially since anti-vaxxers are advocating that people stay away from the best preventive measure: Getting the mumps vaccine.
The most recent outbreak of mumps in Ohio began in January 2014. Of the 212 cases of mumps that have been reported in the Columbus, Ohio area, 132 cases are located on the campus of Ohio State University. Those patients range in age from 9 months to 70 years, and include 96 students and 13 staff members.
Medical professionals are calling on unvaccinated residents and university students to get vaccinated with two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Without the protection of MMR, the chance of catching the contagious viral infection is very high.
Mumps manifests itself in a number of ways. According to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, some people show no signs at all while others show a range of symptoms that usually appear after two to three weeks of being exposed to the virus. Some of the main symptoms include a condition called parotitis that causes swollen and painful saliva glands on one or both sides of the face, headaches and high fever, weakness, tiredness, and pain while chewing and ingesting solids or drinking liquids. In some cases, patients might face complications such as deafness and brain swelling. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for mumps.
But this unpleasant and potentially dangerous disease is easily controllable. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the mumps vaccination program has resulted in a decrease of more than 99 percent of cases in recent years. Before that, 186,000 cases of mumps were reported annually.
The vaccine does not guarantee 100 percent immunity, and really, what medical process does? But it has been scientifically established that two doses of MMR are about 88 percent effective. And more importantly, people who have been vaccinated but still catch the virus may not get as sick as someone who remains unvaccinated. According to medical professionals, people need to take certain preventive measures including staying away from misguided anti-vaxxers.
The CDC offers other common sense advice besides getting the MMR vaccine in the right doses. They are asking people in the infected areas to constantly wash their hands, cover their mouths while sneezing or coughing, and limit sharing food and water with others.
As useful as these measures are, there is no stronger barrier against mumps than the MMR vaccine. No matter what Jenny McCarthy and other anti-vaxxers say about vaccines and their supposed connection to autism, there is no evidence to corroborate that position. In fact, medical professionals have categorically struck down the 1998 case study by Andrew Wakefield that falsely linked autism and vaccines, which McCarthy and others of her ilk constantly tout as anti-vaccine scientific research. Any other connections of toxins and preservatives in vaccines to autism have also been proved to be without any basis.
So people who are on the fence about vaccinating themselves or their children against preventable diseases such as mumps, measles and rubella should heed the advice of medical professionals. Scheduled doses of the MMR vaccine will not cause autism. There is a possibility of mild fever or redness at the injection site but stronger side effects are rare.
There is no need to suffer from diseases like mumps. This is especially so for people, who are not immunized against the disease. Such people can easily take preventive measures to protect themselves from communicable diseases including mumps by staying away from the advice of anti-vaxxers, and getting inoculated.
Opinion by Monalisa Gangopadhyay.