"The fact that this is the largest outbreak of mumps that we've seen in Alaska since the 1970s is concerning to me," State Epidemiologist Doctor Joe McLaughlin said. "Not only because mumps can occasionally lead to more serious complications. We've had two people so far who have been hospitalized. I'm concerned that it is going to continue to spread and become a much larger outbreak. So, this is a call to action to everybody living in Anchorage."

The original source of the mumps outbreak is uncertain, but several of the early patients are from the Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders neighborhoods. Those patients reported recent travel to Hawaii or other Pacific island's where mumps is currently circulating at a high rate.

"The numbers are in the hundreds," McLaughlin said. "The Hawaii outbreak started in early 2017. I believe now their case count is over 600, it may even be more than that."  

In the state of Alaska, the cases have jumped from 13 to 44.

"The reason we are seeing the case counts increase here in Anchorage is because we are getting local transmission," McLaughlin said. "It's not just among travelers anymore, we are now seeing local spread of mumps here within Anchorage."

Mumps is very contagious and is spread through respiratory droplets.

"If you are around somebody who has mumps and they sneeze, cough or are talking very close to you, you can get infected," McLaughlin said. "We have seen some cases in school-age children. We've seen cases in daycare settings and so our strongest recommendation is that your children and yourself are updated on the [measles, mumps and rubella] vaccines."

The Anchorage School District told KTVA that they are not too concerned with mumps because the students need to be up on their vaccines before they can attend classes. They are more concerned with students getting their flu shots, so they do not miss time in the classroom.

Of the 44 confirmed cases in Anchorage, 31 are adults and 13 are in children under the age of 18.

"Anyone who comes into close contact with a person who has mumps is at risk," McLaughlin said. "The best way to decrease your risk is to get vaccinated."

The Department of Health and Human Services is also recommending a third dose of the MMR vaccine for anybody who is participating in a congregate setting where mumps is circulating. Places like churches or daycare centers.

"We know mumps spreads where people are in close proximity," McLaughlin said.

How does the area stop the outbreak?

"One, the importance of vaccination and two, if you do become ill or your child becomes ill with mumps, it is important that they stay home from school or you stay home from work," McLaughlin said. "Avoid transmission of the virus. The recommendation is to stay home for five days after the onset of salivary gland swelling. Also, spread awareness, talk about the signs so other people are aware."

The vaccine is called the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Children should get their first dose of the vaccine between the ages of 12 months and 15 months. The second dose is due between the ages four and six years of age. According to Health and Human Services, after the first dose of the vaccine, about 78 percent of people will become immune to mumps. After the second dose, about 88 percent of people will become immune.

"That means about 12 percent still won't become immune," McLaughlin said. "So, that's why we do see cases of mumps in people that have had both doses of the vaccine. To put this in perspective, before the mumps vaccine was available in the United States, in the late 1960s, we'd see about 200,000 cases of mumps reported nationally. That's just the reported cases. Since the MMR vaccine has been in wide use across the United States, we now see a few hundred cases to several thousand cases per year. So the vaccine is highly effective."

One of the new things with this outbreak is that for the first time ever, a third booster dose is recommended of the MMR vaccine for people who are at increased risk for mumps infection. Doctor Mclaughlin says for native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders who have already received two doses of the MMR vaccine, a third dose is recommended if the second dose was administered over five years ago.

If you'd like to get vaccinated, you can go to the walk-in clinic at the Anchorage Health and Human Services Building at 825 L Street.

Copyright 2017 KTVA. All rights reserved.

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