That old sack-of-shit disease mumps is back, baby. Outbreaks are on the rise: Kids are coming down with the viral illness in Montana, and college students are picking it up and spreading it around in Pennsylvania. The second M in the MMR vaccine (that’s measles, mumps and rubella) has been making a comeback behind our backs for years now, while we’ve all been too busy grappling with the measles epidemic that has kept hundreds of kids out of school and caused a state of emergency in Washington. That means it’s time to ask: What is the mumps? Why is it still even a thing? And most importantly of all, who the hell can we be mad at about it? Let’s dig in!
What Is Mumps, Anyway?
It’s a virus that sounds painful and looks awful, and the icing on the mumps cake is you can have it for 12 to 25 days before you even know it. First comes very cool symptoms like a fever, a headache, achy muscles, no appetite and being really tired, the CDC explains. Then comes the fun part: Your salivary glands swell up leaving you with a big puffy face around the jaw and cheeks. You should avoid contact with others for five days past the swelling, when contagion is mighty high. While most people get over it in a few weeks just fine without anything more than this terrible experience, some people get really sick and unable to eat with mumps, and some men can experience testicle swelling, too, and it could leave them sterile. In extreme cases, it can lead to hearing loss or brain swelling and even death. Cool right?
Is Mumps Contagious?
Does mumps rhyme with grumps? The answer is yes. It’s contagious. It’s not as bad as the measles, which you can get from just hanging out one time in a room where someone with the measles once was. You can get mumps from anyone you have “prolonged contact” with, per the CDC, via coughing and sneezing up that sweet mumps-filled saliva, and this includes all the prolonged contact activities that make prolonged contact worth prolonging, like sharing cups and water bottles, making out, playing sports or just being unlucky enough to live with a mumps-infected citizen.
Does the Mumps Vaccine Work?
Yes. Mumps is largely prevented with the MMR vaccine, which is a two-dose vaccine. If you get both doses, which are typically given to kids at ages 1 and 4, it’s 88 percent effective in preventing the mumps. If you just get the one dose, it’s 78 percent effective against mumps.
Prior to rolling out this two-dose situation in 1989, there were 186,000 cases a year and it was a common childhood illness. The two-dose vaccine decreased the cases by 99 percent, leaving only a couple hundred annually. But suddenly they’re on the rise again in the last few years.
What Caused the 2019 Mumps Outbreak?
Some officials think it’s being reintroduced by international travelers. But another part of the equation here that’s unique is that the mumps vaccine tends to wear off by the time you’re 18, which is why college students and other people in close quarters between the ages of 18 and 22 — people who are fully vaccinated since childhood, just without the early childhood strength — are getting mumps. Experts are moving toward recommending a third dose for this reason, the New York Times reported.
But it’s important to understand that even having a weakened vaccine strength still gives you protection from mumps and can result in a milder illness.
Are Anti-Vaxxers to Blame?
You can always be mad at anti-vaxxers, but in the mumps case, health officials are saying this isn’t a straightforward case of that, like the measles situation is. However, given the way mumps spreads, unvaccinated kids are more likely to pick it up, go to school, and infect your child. So, yes, definitely still be mad at them.
What Can You Do if Your Kid Is Exposed to Mumps?
Is your kid unvaccinated on purpose because you think vaccines cause autism? If so, you should fuck off! Quarantine your child, and call your pediatrician to see what to do, and maybe about getting that vaccine. However, if you’re already exposed to mumps, the vaccine isn’t really going to help you much during this month’s outbreak — you’re probably regretting that decision now, huh? — but you may as well get it to avoid measles and rubella, now that you realize how stupid you were.
Also, tell your school your child has been exposed. Even though you’re clearly unconcerned with ethics, it’s the very least you can do to avoid killing us all.
Is your kid vaccinated, or half vaccinated due to age/timing? Call your pediatrician, because even though the one dose is giving you 78 percent protection, they can advise you as to the timing of the second, which you may decide to get sooner than planned. Experts say that while you don’t need to automatically quarantine your child if they have some vaccination because you’re smart and decent, you should still watch for symptoms over the next couple of weeks. Again, even if your child picks it up, expect a milder illness. Also tell your school so they can notify the parents. Although given that you vaccinated your child and this is someone else’s fault, I’m guessing you didn’t need to be told that.
Can I Go Apeshit on My School’s Private Facebook Group?
Let’s say you found out from a local dad on Facebook that a child’s classmate has mumps. What the fuck. Why didn’t my school notify everyone? I get an email once a week that someone has lice, for crying out loud!
According to the National Vaccine Information Center, most states require you to keep your unvaccinated child home from school in the event of an outbreak, far, far away from the regular children with good parents. So that means the school can tell you to do so. That happened in Washington in 2016, where a school sent home 200 unvaccinated students with bad parents. But private schools and daycares may not have to do this; find out the laws in your own state so you can complain.
But in the most of the cases reported so far at schools, nurses or administrators, such as in the Montana outbreak, contacted only the parents of susceptible students who weren’t vaccinated or didn’t have an updated vaccine record on file. In a California outbreak of measles, guidelines were issued by Riverside County in 2014 that outlined the same thing: notifying only the parents of students who weren’t vaccinated.
So cause a stir. Every parent should know.
In the case of an actual outbreak, your health department may warn you via letter, though. That was the case in Brooklyn during a measles outbreak at an Orthodox Jewish school, when the health department let the families of students know that anyone unvaccinated would not be permitted to attend.
What Else Should I Know About the 2019 Mumps Outbreak?
Wash your hands. Cover your cough. And start asking questions! Find out which unvaccinated kid did this to you, and do not invite them to the next birthday party.