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Wash Your Hands: 4 Cases of Mumps Confirmed in Milwaukee

Alex E. Proimos, Flickr

So far, there have been 27 confirmed cases of mumps across Wisconsin this year with four of them being in Milwaukee.The disease has been making its way around the state for weeks, mainly concentrated on UW-System campuses. Health officials say hand washing and good hygiene are keys to keeping yourself healthy. But why is mumps making a comeback – when many people were vaccinated against it?

“Typically in Milwaukee County and specifically in the city we typically don’t see any cases of mumps. This disease is prevented through vaccination. Although, since 2006 when we had a large national outbreak of mumps we tend to see a couple cases in the state each year,”  Paul Biedrzycki, director of disease control for the city health department, says.

If you’re not familiar with mumps, it often causes a person’s salivary glands to swell – puffing up the neck and cheek. Other symptoms can include fever, body aches and headaches. In the most serious cases, the disease can harm a person’s reproductive organs.

While older people may have had mumps when young, the community has vaccinated against it for decades. But Biedryzcki says the system is not perfect.

“The level of vaccination in communities is not optimal. It hasn’t reached the 95 percent mark. There’s lots of individuals in the community that are either under vaccinated or unvaccinated. Secondly, the mumps vaccine isn’t a perfect vaccine. It only confers about 80 percent to 85 percent efficacy,” Biedrzycki says.

That means there’s a chance that two out of 10 people vaccinated could contract the disease.

Right now it’s mumps, but in recent years diseases like measles, whooping cough and even polio have made comebacks in some places, despite the existence of vaccines.

Rodney Willoughby is a doctor at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. When it comes to whooping cough, he says the newer vaccine the U.S. uses is less effective. As far as measles is concerned and polio, Willoughby says as long as people travel, there’s a risk.

“There are many places in the world, including some countries in Europe where they don’t vaccinate aggressively. And so travelers will bring this back into their communities, and so there’s always the chance of a brush fire and that’s a fact of life. And it just means that you always have to be on your guard and you always have to keep vaccination rates up,” Willoughby says.

Willoughby says under normal circumstances, only people in high-risk groups, such as physicians need to be revaccinated. He recommends that traveling people check the CDC website to find out if they’re headed to a place with an outbreak.

As for the mumps here, the virus spreads through mucus. If an infected person sneezes, coughs or simply talks, they can pass it along. The health department’s Paul Biedryzcki says the most preventative step people can take is wash hands frequently. And he says if you get the mumps, quarantine yourself until it runs its course –usually a week or so.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.