The mumps outbreak that started over the summer in Anchorage continues to spread, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. 

Thursday, DHSS reported there have been 186 confirmed cases to date and another 26 probable cases that have been reported to the Alaska Section of Epidemiology. Those numbers are up significantly from mid-December when there were 104 confirmed cases and another 18 probable. DHSS says they've sent off more than 500 specimens for mumps testing. 

The best defense against Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) is to be up-to-date on your MMR vaccine. Most people should have received two doses of the MMR vaccine in childhood, but DHHS' Dr. Joe McLaughlin says those who haven't had a second dose should get one. 

Also, Dr. McLaughlin says, some people should consider getting a third, including children or adults who spend time in places where mumps circulates, as well as Pacific Islanders, since 70 percent of the Anchorage cases have affected that population. 

The onset of symptoms can take up to three weeks after exposure. Those symptoms can include general fatigue and aches, low-level fever, loss of appetite, and, most significantly, painfully swollen cheeks.

McLaughlin said people who experience symptoms should call their doctor and not go into a clinic unannounced. Once confirmed, they need to stay home.

"The most critical thing is to self-isolate for five days, and that's five days after onset of your symptoms, especially the swollen cheeks. That means no school, no going to work during those five days."

Most people with mumps recover on their own within three weeks, but McLaughlin said there are occasional complications. He said people need to take the mumps seriously and, if they do get sick, do everything they can to avoid spreading the virus to others.

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