Hundreds of cases of mumps have been reported across the country since the start of 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As of March 4, the CDC had received reports of 1,242 cases of mumps, a contagious viral infection that can result in swollen salivary glands and flu-like symptoms. In Washington state, Seattle and King County Heath officials said a dozen University of Washington students, all connected to sororities or fraternities, contracted the illness, KING-TV reported.
This year, there have been 563 reported cases of mumps and probable mumps statewide, an increase from last year when 154 cases were reported in the state, according to the Washington State Health Department.
In Tulsa, officials investigated five confirmed cases of mumps in the area, KFOR-TV reported.In Illinois, the Lake County Health Department announced its partnering with Barrington School District 220 to hold a vaccination clinic after four cases of confirmed mumps were reported and 35 probable cases identified in the area.
Though cases of the mumps fluctuate each year from a few hundred to a few thousand, the high number of cases so early in 2017 has some health officials concerned.
"We always get concerned any time that we have any type of outbreak, especially with a vaccine-preventable illness like mumps," said Camille Sabella, director of Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Pediatric Infectious Diseases.
Typically, children are given two doses of the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella), which is the best protection against mumps. Sabella said the virus is typically spread quickly among students, particularly high school or college students who are in tight quarters and may spread the virus through saliva, or coughing.
Though the vaccine is not 100% effective, two dosages typically gives enough protection to prevent mumps, Sabella said, adding it's not too late for those who only received one dosage or were not vaccinated at all to get the vaccine.
Many of the 2017 cases are from outbreaks continuing from 2016, when 5,311 cases were reported to the CDC, marking the highest number of mumps cases in a decade, Ian Branam, a spokesman for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, said in an email.
"Because outbreaks of mumps are unpredictable, we don’t know if this level in mumps cases will continue for the remainder of 2017," Branam said.
He said officials are investigating factors that may have contributed to the 2016 outbreak, including whether the vaccine's effectiveness decreases over time.
"The most important thing is to be sure your child has two dosages of MMR and ... common sense things, washing your hands well and trying to stay away from individuals who may be obviously ill, not sharing drinks, cups," Sabella said. "Beyond that, it's really difficult to prevent this because again people are in close settings like a classroom, and it's very contagious."