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Historical infection returning

Lorraine Graves   Sep-15-2017

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Follow via Flickr


An old virus, defeated decades ago, isn’t something we worry about anymore. It turns out, we should. Mumps is rearing its ugly head again. Earlier this year, several Vancouver Canucks staff and players including Richmond’s Troy Stecher contracted the highly contagious viral illness. Last season, five Canucks were quarantined to prevent the spread of mumps. And the viral infection is back again, according to Dr. Althea Hayden, Medical Health Officer for Vancouver Coastal Health.

She says that not everyone who gets mumps has the typical symptoms but they can still pass along the virus. It’s spread through saliva so coughing, sneezing, sharing food, drinks, cigarettes and other smokes are all effective ways to spread the virus.

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While this virus usually affects the saliva producing glands in the face and neck, it can move into glands like testicles or ovaries producing even greater discomfort. While rare, it can result in sterility, the inability to ever conceive a baby. Rarer complications include inflammation of the brain (meningitis) and deafness, according to Hayden.

For pregnant women, the studies are not clear whether catching the mumps can damage the growing baby or cause miscarriage.

Vaccinations are not the same as having the infection and carry a low risk of problems.

Hayden cautions, “If you think you have mumps disease, stay home from work and social events. Contact your doctor before going to a clinic to avoid infecting other patients and office staff.”

The number of cases is rising every year. The annual average in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, which includes Whistler and Squamish, used to be 32 cases annually. The Vancouver Coastal region saw 86 cases of mumps throughout 2016. In the past six months, there have already been 86 cases, six of them in Richmond itself.

According to Hayden, in the last month alone the health region has seen 13 news cases of the mumps. The patients range in age from 18 to 33, with the average age being 25.

The age of those infected is low for a couple of reasons says Hayden.

One is their higher risk behaviours that lead to sharing the virus, that Hayden outlines, “Young adults living in shared spaces and those who have close contact with others in the same age group are more likely to contract the mumps. Mumps is spread by contact with saliva or mucus from the mouth, nose or throat of an infected person. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, the virus spreads through droplets in the air. You can be exposed to the virus even if you are two metres away from someone with mumps. Sharing food, drinks or cigarettes, or kissing someone who has the virus can also put you at risk.”

Hayden says the second reason we are seeing mumps in younger adults is they need a booster shot.

Before 1996, only one dose of mumps vaccine was given. Now, research and experience have shown that at least two shots are required to prevent mumps. That means anyone born before 1996 or anyone who has not been adequately vaccinated should contact their physician, pharmacist or public health unit for a free vaccination as soon as possible.

In fact, because mumps can only infect humans, were the world able to prevent all infections for a year, the disease would be eradicated.

It takes seconds to get a mumps vaccination. If you catch mumps, the infection, pain, fever and discomfort from the swelling usually lasts a week or two.

Mumps is highly contagious and you can pass it along in the weeks between catching the virus and the symptoms showing up. Once you have symptoms, you are definitely able to pass along this disease. It’s easy to catch.

Depending on your records and birth year, a health care professional can advise you. If you do not know your vaccination record, Hayden says it is better to be safe. Receiving an extra shot will not harm you.

“We continue to see mumps in increasing numbers, and these outbreaks will continue unless young adults between the ages of 23 and 47 receive two doses of vaccine so they are fully protected,” says Hayden.

For more information HealthLink BC (dial 811)


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