Mumps is a contagious viral illness, characterized by fever, headaches, and swollen salivary glands under the jaw (pictured). Meningitis, encephalitis, permanent hearing loss, and other serious complications can also occur.

Image/Alaska DHHS
Image/Alaska DHHS

During the past five years, Alaska received an average of <1 case report per year. However, State of Alaska DHSS puts the case count in Anchorage at 86 to date (71 confirmed cases and 15 probable cases) since the first cases were reported in May.

Starting in August 2017, there has been an increase in mumps activity in Anchorage.  Not all cases are able to be linked epidemiologically; suggesting that transmission in the community is occurring.

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To date, this mumps outbreak has disproportionately impacted Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander (NH/PI) people, who comprise 82% of confirmed cases. For most patients, their infection was epidemiologically linked to a household or a congregate setting (e.g., work or church) in which a case of mumps had been previously identified. While the original source of the outbreak is uncertain, several of the initial patients reported recent travel to or close contact with a person who had recently traveled to a Pacific island where mumps is circulating.

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Alaska health officials say controlling a mumps outbreak requires high levels of herd immunity by vaccination. Because the vaccine is not 100% effective, however, many cases occur in fully-vaccinated patients during mumps outbreaks. 3 In the current outbreak, 43% of patients had at least two doses of MMR. Moreover, waning immunity to the mumps component of the MMR vaccine contributes to mumps transmission.

Alaska officials recommend the following during the current outbreak:

For persons who participate in a group setting (e.g., daycare, work, church) where mumps is currently circulating, OR for Anchorage residents who self-identify as being Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander:

  • A second dose of MMR is recommended for persons with only one dose of MMR (administered at least 4 weeks after the first dose).
  • A third dose of MMR is recommended if the person had a second dose that was administered ≥5 years ago (a third dose of MMR is NOT recommended for persons with a history of mumps).

Related: 5 Vaccine preventable diseases in the US: Then and now

From January 1 to November 4, 2017, 47 states and the District of Columbia in the U.S. reported mumps infections in 4,980 people to CDC.