Need to know: Mumps


There have been 900 cases of mumps nationwide so far this year. Here’s what you need to know about this preventable disease, explains Theo Brandt of the Immunisation Advisory Centre.

Thanks to the Auckland Regional Public Health Board for the adaption of their material.

You’ll be aware that Auckland is having an outbreak of mumps, with more than 740 probable cases by the beginning of November 2017. That’s like 16 usual years worth of mumps in one year. The majority of
cases were aged 10 to 29 years, as this age group has had lower than average immunisation rates. And it’s the lower immunisation rate that has allowed the disease to spread. Of course, if you live outside of Auckland, you’re still at risk. Especially during school holidays, when families travel around the country. Mumps cases have already occurred in Northland, Waikato, Hawkes Bay, Whanganui, Wellington, Nelson/Marlborough, Christchurch, and Dunedin. Even the All Blacks were affected, with two players
stood down and isolated after catching the disease.

Where mumps come from

Mumps is spread from an infected person through coughing, sneezing, or talking. Touching an object infected from saliva or mucous, such as a used tissue, door handle, toys, or keyboard, can also spread this nasty disease. Early symptoms of mumps include fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness,
and loss of appetite. The salivary glands on one or both sides of the face, cheeks or jaw may become swollen and sore after two days. Most people recover from mumps. However, some can develop rare complications. Men and adolescent boys can experience pain and swelling in their testicles, which in rare cases can result in infertility. Females can experience inflammation of their ovaries. For pregnant women, there is risk of miscarriage in the first three months. In some people, mumps can cause permanent hearing loss. In very few cases, mumps can lead to inflammation of the brain and surrounding tissue (meningitis).

What you can do

Because mumps can’t be treated, it’s most important to avoid catching it in the first place. Immunisation with the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine is the best way to prevent mumps. So how do you know if you’re protected or not?

You’re considered to be protected against mumps if:

  • You were born in New Zealand before 1981, or
  • Diagnosed with mumps by a doctor before, or
  • You have documented evidence of two MMR immunisations.

You are NOT considered immune if:

  • You don’t have two documented MMR immunisations, or
  • You have a weakened immune system, or
  • You are a child less than 15 months of age (before MMR is usually given), or
  • You are a child aged between 15 months to four years (you probably have only had one MMR immunisation).

Protection against mumps

The best way to protect against mumps is to have two doses of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

In New Zealand, MMR immunisation is routinely given at age 15 months and again at four years. However, all children can have their first MMR immunisation at 12 months of age and their second MMR immunisation four weeks later. Contact your doctor if you are unsure if you have been immunised, or if you need to catchup with a second dose. If you don’t have immunisation records, two doses of MMR
vaccine are recommended. There are no safety concerns about receiving MMR vaccine if you have previously received two vaccine doses or are already immune to measles, mumps, and/or rubella. MMR immunisation is free for everyone born in 1969 or later who does not have two documented doses.

Exclusion and quarantine

If a case of mumps is notified at your child’s school or a family member’s workplace, the regional public health service can require certain people to stay at home in quarantine.

You would be asked to stay in quarantine if:

  • You do not have any documented MMR immunisation.
  • You are aged four years or older, only have one documented MMR immunisation and you do not intend to get the second MMR immunisation.
  • You are unsure of your immunity.
  • You are a child aged under 15 months.
  • You are considered high-risk.
  • You have a fever and swelling in the face, cheeks, or jaw for two days or more.
  • You are suspected of having mumps, but are still waiting for test results to arrive from your doctor.

You can still attend work or school if:

  • You are a child aged 12 months to four years who has one documented MMR immunisation. (Note: A second MMR vaccination can be given as soon as four weeks after the first MMR vaccination.)
  • You have one documented MMR immunisation and immediately receive a second MMR immunisation that is at least four weeks after the first one.
  • You have two documented MMR immunisations. Quarantine means the child or staff member remains at home away from other people. They cannot attend day care, school, work, social activities, sports, or recreational events. They should not use public transport or visit public places such as cinemas or shopping malls. The quarantine period starts 12 days after the first contact with an infected person, lasting until 25 days after the last contact. Even if you have no symptoms you must stay in quarantine because you may still be infectious and develop the illness even up until the final day (day 25).
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