- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Health officials have surmised that the vaccine for mumps is not fully effective, explaining wide-ranging reports of the viral infection with at least three states recording more than 300 cases each since Jan. 1.

But health experts say that even a partially ineffective vaccine is better than no vaccine at all.

Mumps has been reported in 42 states and the District of Columbia, despite a high compliance rate for vaccinations against the viral infection across the country.

“What we’re seeing is that the mumps vaccine is not perfect, that’s what we’re seeing nationwide,” said Paul Throne, manager of the Office of Immunization and Child Profile, Health Promotion and Communications at Washington state’s Department of Health. “The vaccine is not as effective as we’d hoped.”

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 90 percent of infants born in the U.S. in 2014 received the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (German measles), known as MMR.

Yet Missouri, Arkansas and Washington each have recorded more than 300 cases of mumps since January.

Arkansas reported the largest outbreak, with 2,936 mumps cases under investigation since August. But health officials there say the outbreak has slowed significantly.

Ninety to 95 percent of school-age children who have contracted the virus and 30 to 40 percent of adults infected were fully immunized, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.

“The vaccine is not perfect,” the health department says on its website. “If it were not for the vaccine, however, we would be seeing many, many more cases of the mumps.

“Also, we have only seen a few cases with complications, like swelling of the brain or testicles. Normally, we would expect to see many more persons with complications. This tells us that even though some vaccinated individuals are still getting the mumps, they are experiencing mild disease. The vaccine remains the best protection we have against the mumps.”

Washington state’s Department of Health has recorded 823 since October, and is expected to update its numbers on Thursday. Spokane County has recorded the largest number of infections in the state — 324.

“It’s concerning,” said Anna Halloran, an epidemiologist for Spokane Regional Health District. “This is the largest outbreak we’ve seen of mumps since the ‘70s. It’s quite unusual for our state.”

Mumps is a highly contagious disease spread in close quarters by respiratory droplets or direct contact with an infected person. Symptoms can include fever, headache, muscle aches, loss of appetite, and swollen salivary glands and testicles. The infection can last between seven and 18 days.

Before the U.S. launched an MMR vaccine campaign in 1967, about 186,000 cases of mumps were reported annually. Since then, the CDC has recorded a few thousand cases per year. The agency tallied 5,833 cases in 2016.

An initial MMR dose is given to children between 12 and 15 months old and a second dose between 4 and 6 years old. The CDC says the vaccine is 88 percent effective in preventing mumps and 93 percent effective in preventing measles.

Washington state’s Ms. Halloran said health officials believe the Spokane outbreak is linked to an earlier outbreak in neighboring King County, and was exacerbated in December and January by the holidays, with friends and family spending longer periods of time together in close spaces and sharing food and drinks.

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