State epidemiologist hopeful mumps outbreak slowing

  • Hawaii Department of Health image showing the symptoms of mumps.

HILO — Hawaii’s state epidemiologist says she’s hopeful the mumps outbreak might be slowing.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Dr. Sarah Park during a telephone interview, cautioning that, “if it’s a decline, it’s very slow.”

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The state’s tally of confirmed mumps cases reached 902 as of March 1, the anniversary of the outbreak’s first diagnosis, including 719 people in the City and County of Honolulu, 131 in Hawaii County, 49 in Kauai County and three in Maui County.

State officials continue to plead with residents to get an “outbreak dose” of the vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella.

Park urged residents ages 10-60 to get vaccinated, stay away from crowds if they haven’t gotten an outbreak dose yet and to stay home from school or work if they’re sick. Health officials ask anyone with suspected mumps to “self isolate.”

“This is definitely not a time to think, ‘Oh, we’ve turned a corner so we don’t have to think about all these preventions,’” Park said.

Mumps is caused by a virus. The disease was so common, before vaccine became available, that anyone born before 1957 is presumed immune from childhood exposure. Mumps usually is mild, especially in children.

But possible complications include deafness; swelling of the brain,testicles or ovaries; and meningitis, an infection of the spinal cord and brain covering. Fertility problems later in life also can occur, Park said.

Twenty-six people affected by mumps in the state during the current outbreak have experienced complications, according to the state.

Symptoms can last two to four weeks. But some people get few or no symptoms, so mumps can be spread by people who don’t even know they’re sick. According to the state, mumps symptoms can include fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, loss of appetite and swollen, tender salivary glands under the ears or along the jawline on one or both sides.

Building immunity, once vaccinated, takes about two weeks.

The state has been lucky, Park said, that only three people, so far, have been hospitalized because of mumps — all because of dehydration or pain when trying to eat.

Most affected during the outbreak have been people in their late teens to about 45, Park said.

Physicians throughout the state are recognizing mumps more easily now that they’ve seen examples or are on the lookout for them, she said.

There was a handful of mumps cases in 2016 at a Hawaii school, Park said, but before that, there had not been an outbreak in the state even a quarter as severe as the current one since the 1970s.

As the time nears for music festivals, hula, parades and other public events with crowds, Park said it’s best to get vaccinated.

“If you get that outbreak MMR dose, you can definitely feel more secure about hanging out in those types of situations,” she said.

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Health providers are asked to report suspected cases to 586-4586.

Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@hawaiitribune-herald.com.