First in decades, Anchorage mumps outbreak triples in size

The number of cases reported in Alaska’s first mumps outbreak in decades has tripled.

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From May to September, state epidemiologists counted 13 cases of mumps, an extremely contagious viral illness. As of Tuesday, that count had jumped to 44 cases, all of which were contained to Anchorage.

Mumps patients have high fevers, swollen salivary glands and other symptoms, though the illness is typically not life-threatening.

Alaska has not had this many mumps cases since the 1970s, when the country was still seeing the benefits of the first mumps vaccine.

“Based on what we’re seeing nationally, in other states where outbreaks are occurring, it is not a big surprise,” Dr. Joe McLaughlin, head of the state’s Section of Epidemiology, said. “But we are concerned that we are starting to see an uptick.”

Those states include Hawaii, which has reported hundreds of cases this year. According to an epidemiology bulletin this week, several Alaska patients said they had either been to Hawaii recently or been in contact with someone who had visited the islands.

Nearly half of the recent mumps patients in Alaska had already received the recommended two doses of the vaccine, so state health officials are advising anyone who knows someone who’s had the illness to get a third dose.

McLaughlin said mumps is particularly communicable due to its transfer by close proximity to others, as they sneeze or even speak near someone.

Anyone with plans to see a doctor for mumps-like symptoms should not go to a waiting room where they might expose others and instead talk to clinic staff about how to be seen without coming into contact with other patients, McLaughlin said.

The best way to fight the mumps outbreak is for people to stay home for at least five days if symptoms like swollen cheeks or jaw pain occur, or to get vaccinated if others in their social groups come down with the illness, McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin said state health officials are unsure if the Anchorage outbreak has peaked yet.

“At this point, there’s no indication that it’ll be going away anytime soon,” McLaughlin said.