State-supplied MMR booster shot available to Alaska residents

(Alaska Department of Health and Social Services graphic)

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is now offering a third dose of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to Alaska residents who would like additional protection against mumps and who have received their second dose more than five years ago. In typical cases, Americans receive two doses as children.

Last summer health providers in Alaska reported an uptick in cases of mumps in Anchorage. The viral illness typically causes fever, headaches and swollen salivary glands and can cause serious health complications. In the five previous years, Alaska averaged less than one case of mumps per year. Since May, the state has received reports of 271 confirmed and probable cases.

Southwest Alaska has not seen a case of mumps during this outbreak. However, the DHSS cautioned in a public health advisory it issued at the end of February that the outbreak is not slowing and that cases are appearing in communities outside Anchorage.

“It’s good to remember that Alaska is not the only state in the US experiencing a mumps outbreak,” Amanda Tiffany, an epidemiologist with the Alaska Division of Public in Health, said. “Over 4,900 mumps infections were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 48 states and the District of Columbia in 2017. We know that Alaskans are very mobile, traveling within Alaska and from Alaska to the Lower 48 and Hawaii.”

(Alaska Department of Health and Social Services graphic)

Risk of exposure, Tiffany explained, is not specifically associated with travel to one place, like Anchorage. The spread of the mumps is also exacerbated by the illness’s long incubation period, 12 to 25 days.

“Vaccination is the best way to prevent infection with the mumps virus. It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of mumps and to see a doctor if you start experiencing symptoms. The doctor will tell you to self-isolate for 5 days after symptoms start; this is really important to stop the spread of the virus. This does mean staying at home and away from public places and members of your family – no work, school, church, social activities,” Tiffany said.

In order to slow the spread of the virus, a state-supplied third dose of MMR is available to Alaska residents, provided it has been five years since their second MMR dose and they are either covered by Alaska Medicaid, insured by a carrier that participates in Alaska Vaccine Assessment Program or whose medical provider has opted-in to AVAP for uninsured adults.

As Alaskans decide whether to receive a third dose of the vaccine, Tiffany suggested they consider a couple of factors.

“One, how long has it been since your last MMR? We know that immunity to mumps wanes over time, the more time that has passed since your second dose of MMR the less immunity you may have if you’re exposed to the virus,” Tiffany said. “Two, are you at risk for exposure to the virus?”

In addition to vaccination, Tiffany said hand washing is with warm and soapy water is a simple tool for helping prevent the spread of disease, including mumps.