Mumps outbreak reaches the islands

Image by Kala Lindsey

The mumps, formerly thought of as an archaic disease that was suppressed in the mid-1900s, has made its way back into our communities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 5,833 confirmed cases of mumps in the United States last year, up from 450 cases in 2013. The state Department of Health Outbreak Control Division also reported that as of Jan. 18, more than 800 confirmed cases of mumps were reported in Hawai‘i within the past two years, and the numbers are climbing every day.

Mumps is a contagious, yet treatable virus that causes the parotid salivary glands in the lower cheek and jaw area to swell. The swelling can cause severe pain, tenderness and redness. It can be accompanied by a high fever, which can lead to further problems if not treated immediately or properly. The average incubation period ranges from 12 to 25 days when treated with strong antibiotics.

As the virus is mostly passed by exchange of saliva such as through openly coughing, sneezing, kissing or sharing food utensils and drinkware, it most commonly infects young children.

Charles M., HM-3 (Hospital Medic) of the U.S. Navy, advises: “Wash your hands as much as possible and keep away from anyone who might be sick with anything because it presents itself as a fever before any other symptoms start to show. Double up on the vaccine or talk to your doctors if you or your kid is exhibiting any of the symptoms. It’s important to catch this thing as early as possible.”

If an adult is infected, the symptoms may be severe and can cause complications such as inflammation in the brain, inflammation in the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord, deafness or inflammation in the reproductive organs. Though rare, inflammation in the reproductive organs can cause infertility, so it’s critical to treat the virus as soon as possible. Similar to the chicken pox, once you have had the virus, you cannot contract it again.

Mumps is distinct from and should not be confused with the measles virus, which is highly contagious and extremely dangerous and can cause severe problems like pneumonia or swelling of the brain. Measles requires hospitalization immediately.

The CDC urges people 10 years or older to get the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine immediately to help control the spread of mumps. The vaccine is recommended even for those who have been previously vaccinated as well as for those who have documentation of a blood test showing immunity to the virus.

The vaccine was developed in 1963 by Dr. Maurice Hilleman, who contracted the mumps virus from his own ill daughter.

Licensed by the Food and Drug Administration in 1967, the vaccine was heavily encouraged by pediatricians and was credited with suppressing the virus to only five or fewer confirmed mumps cases in the U.S. per year until the outbreak in 2006.

According to, a non-profit organization that provides professionally researched information on controversial topics like child vaccinations, the MMR vaccine is important because even though the virus is treatable, the damage can be life-altering.

Before the vaccine existed, many children in the U.S. suffered damaged tracheas or complete deafness caused by the profuse swelling.

WCC student and parent Jackie Davis admits, “It’s terrifying, as a parent, when there’s only so much you can do, and it may or may not be 100% effective. All we can do is hope and try and be as clean and cautious as possible.”

To get the vaccine, contact your local clinic or your child’s pediatrician.


Hannah Bailey, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter