Arkansas mumps outbreak raises concerns here in Minn.

October 11, 2016

The Arkansas Department of Health is investigating a mumps outbreak, possibly infecting more than 400 people, most of them children. This raises concerns right here in our state.

Mark Schleiss, M.D., professor with the University of Minnesota Medical School, said even though these potential cases are happening in a different state, it is still a big issue for those living in Minnesota. Mumps can be a serious infection with long-term consequences.

“Kids with mumps are miserable. Fever, headache, malaise and of course the tell-tale swelling in the neck (the parotid gland) are signs of infection,” said Schleiss.

As of October 10, 476 total cases of mumps were under investigation in Arkansas according to the Arkansas Department of Health. There are 13 workplaces and 3 school districts impacted. In response to the outbreak, the state’s health department is requiring students in the affected schools with vaccine exemptions for the MMR (Mumps, Measles, and Rubella) vaccine to be excluded from school for 26 days from the date of exposure and until the outbreak has ended. Students who receive the recommended doses of MMR vaccine may return to school immediately.

The Arkansas Department of Health also previously noted in its initial analysis of immunization history in mid-September that over 18% of the cases in these children were completely unimmunized.

Schleiss said the typically the vaccines are highly effective, however there have been some outbreaks in recent years including in the upper Midwest, such as Iowa and Minnesota.

“It will be important to continue to deduce if these cases were in fully, partially, or unimmunized children. Usually two doses of vaccine (MMR) are required for protection,” said Schleiss. “It is striking how high the percentage of unimmunized children with disease was in the initial analysis of this outbreak. Failing to vaccinate our children puts them at risk – and puts other children at risk.”

Schleiss said as parents hear about this outbreak in Arkansas, it is a good reminder of what to look for in their own children. The illness is spread typically by respiratory route and via secretions and close person-to-person contact, including sneezing, coughing, talking, and other close contact.

“The world is a small place and with travel, the disease could easily be introduced into Minnesota if it hasn’t already,” Schleiss said. “Parents owe it to their children, and to other children in their schools and communities, to prevent this infection through the use of the simple, safe and effective MMR vaccine.”