mumps vaccine
Charlie Neibergall/AP
A nurse holds a vial of the mumps vaccine
during a clinic sponsored by the Story
County Public Health Dept., on April 26,
2006, at Iowa State University in Ames,

300 New Mumps Cases Reported, Spotlighting the Importance of the Vaccine

February 08, 2010 02:20 PM
by Colleen Brondou
The nation's largest outbreak of mumps in years has spread, calling into question whether those afflicted had the mumps vaccine.

Mumps Outbreak Spreads Again

On Saturday, the Associated Press reported that 300 people had been diagnosed with the mumps in New York's Rockland County. Almost all of those diagnosed are Orthodox Jews. This outbreak follows an earlier outbreak that started in August 2009.

This past October, Helen Kennedy wrote for the New York Daily News that city health officials in Brooklyn, N.Y., had uncovered “an outbreak of the old-fashioned childhood disease mumps.” Health officials said they had approximately 57 confirmed cases and that “75% of the victims had the normal two doses of mumps vaccine.” The outbreak was attributed to a child who had gone to Britain, “where the illness is more common because of lower levels of vaccination,” and then infected other children at a summer camp in upstate New York.

According to Kennedy, the recommended two doses of mumps vaccine are designed to protect people against mumps 90 percent of the time. So why are we seeing a resurgence of the illness? "We know that approximately one in every 20 people who are vaccinated may not develop antibodies," Dr. Jane Zucker, assistant commissioner of immunization, told the Daily News. "If the vaccine was not effective we would have many, many more cases. "

Background: What is a vaccine?

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) explains that a vaccine contains disease-causing germs, or microbes, that have been weakened or killed so that they don’t cause actual disease. When these microbes are introduced to your immune system, your body quickly clears them and usually develops a degree of immunity to them. “In other words,” according to NIAID, “vaccines trick your immune system to teach your body important lessons about how to defeat its opponents.” After your immune system has learned how to fight a disease, you are immune to it. Vaccines provide artificially acquired immunity vs. the naturally acquired immunity that sometimes comes from getting a disease.

Opinion & Analysis: How safe and reliable are vaccines?

The National Network for Immunization Information (NNii) weighs the benefits and risks of vaccines and concludes that “it is hard for some to appreciate risks that they don’t see.” For example, as a direct result of vaccines, most parents today haven’t had to witness their children suffering from diseases such as measles, polio or diphtheria. “As a consequence, fear of these diseases does not—but should—haunt parents as it did historically.” NNii concludes that although there are risks and side effects associated with vaccines, serious side effects are rare and the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Still, scientists are unsure about the long-term durability of many childhood vaccines, speculating that their effects may wear off during adulthood. As a result, adults that were vaccinated as children against deadly diseases such as whooping cough and measles may now be susceptible to such illnesses. According to data released by the CDC in July, American adults have very low compliance rates with recommended vaccinations, due in part to the mistaken belief that childhood vaccinations provide lifelong immunity.

Historical Context: Mumps

Mumps is caused by a virus and is commonly spread through coughing and sneezing. The disease causes a painful swelling of the parotid salivary glands. Symptoms include headache, fever, swelling of the parotid glands and fatigue. The disease was common until the mumps vaccine was released in 1967, according to an article from KidsHealth. Prior to the vaccine, more than 200,000 cases were diagnosed in the United States every year. After 1967, the number of cases dropped to less than 1,000 a year, “and epidemics have become fairly rare.”

Related Topic: Gardasil vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added Gardasil to its routine vaccination schedule in 2007, recommending it for 11- or 12-year-old girls. But some physicians argue that the wrong age group is being targeted: The effectiveness of Gardasil after five years has not been established, so they say vaccinations should start at a later age.

Reference: Immunization schedules and information

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides immunization schedules for children, adolescents and adults. Find clear and concise lists of vaccines needed for each age group.

Use the Web Guide to Vaccination and Immunization to find sites with reliable information explaining what vaccines are, the immunizations recommended for children and adults, and the vaccinations required for travel. You’ll also find information on the swine flu vaccine.

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