A mumps outbreak in Texas has reached a 20-year high. Public health officials have identified 221 cases of the highly contagious disease so far this year, and it’s not because vaccination rates are dipping in Texas.
Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said many of the people with mumps in Texas probably did get vaccinated. (That’s not to say he isn’t concerned about historically low vaccinations rates in the state. He is.)
Hotez said the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella, known as MMR, is about 80 percent effective.
“Of the three vaccines in that MMR vaccine, mumps is kind of the weak player,” he said.
The disease is spread through coughing and sneezing, as well as sharing cups and utensils. Even if you get two doses of the vaccine, Hotez said, it barely gets you to 90 percent protection if you are exposed to mumps. So, this outbreak probably can’t be pinned to people who didn’t get vaccinated.
Chris Van Deusen with the Texas Department of State Health Services said the outbreak actually has more to do with geography.
“They have been experiencing a really bad outbreak in Arkansas,” he said. “They have had almost 3,000 cases to this point. And we know that some of our cases – quite a few – are linked to that outbreak and people who travel back and forth.”
So far the worst outbreaks have been in North Texas. The state also found a cluster of cases among people who visited South Padre Island for spring break.
Van Deusen said he expects the numbers to continue to rise.
Even though mumps is not something people really worry about anymore, he said, the state is asking Texans to be on the lookout for symptoms like swollen salivary glands on either side of the neck.
Hotez said one of the bigger questions will be whether the state and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decide to implement a third mumps vaccine in some areas.
“That really depends on the circumstances, and if we are seeing an outbreak in a really defined community that can be helpful,” Van Deusen said.