Feb 7, 2017, 2:51 PM ET

Mumps Outbreak Reaches 367 Cases in Washington State; Numbers Expected to Rise

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An outbreak of the mumps has continued to grow in Washington state, with at least 367 people diagnosed or suspected of having the illness, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

The vast majority of those infected have been school-age children, according to Paul Throne, the manager of the state's immunization program. Of the school-age children infected in this outbreak, 87 percent were up to date on their mumps vaccinations, Throne said today, but lower vaccination rates among school-age children in general may be contributing to the growth of the outbreak.

Despite the large number of mumps cases, health officials believe the vaccine is providing protection against more serious mumps complications, Throne told ABC News.

"We do think it's still protecting people who get sick. We have not seen the serious side effects that you might expect in an outbreak," he said.

The state health department has been grappling with the outbreak since October and has asked people in multiple counties to get vaccinated against the disease or stay home from school in the hopes of stopping the spread of the virus.

Mumps spreads through small droplets of water in the air — similar to the seasonal flu. The virus can be spread via sharing drinks or food or being in close contact with an infected person. Mumps can cause swelling of the salivary glands, resulting in enlarged cheeks and jaws. Additionally, it can cause fever, headache and tiredness. In rare cases, it can lead to meningitis, swelling of the brain and deafness. It can also cause death.

The Washington State Department of Health is working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine if the current strain of the virus has changed at the DNA level, which could mean the vaccine is less effective, Throne said.

"We don't know if the mumps virus that we're seeing has shifted or drifted from strain in the vaccine. That's something that we're looking at," he said. "It's possible that the exact genotype is not a perfect match."

However, health officials believe the vaccine is broad enough to provide some protection against the virus, Throne said.

Two full doses of the mumps vaccine — usually given as part of the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccination — provide approximately 88 percent protection, and a single dose can provide 78 percent protection against mumps, according to the CDC.

However, diminished MMR vaccination rates among schoolchildren over age 5 in Washington state may be a contributing factor in the outbreak, Throne said.

Since the mumps vaccine is 88 percent effective even when properly administered, it can mean people can be infected with the virus even if vaccinated. If 12 out of 100 vaccinated people can get the virus, when others in the community decide not to get vaccinated, then it can dramatically increase the chance that the virus can spread even among vaccinated people, he noted.

"We have a lot of children in Washington whose [parents] have chosen to exempt children from vaccine" requirements, Throne said. "These are kids who are vulnerable to be exposed and to spread disease before they know they are sick."

The nature of the virus has made it difficult to stop, he said. Sick people can be contagious seven days before and eight days after they show symptoms. As a result, an infected person can unwittingly infect many others.

Additionally, the health department has had to educate medical providers about early signs of mumps, since many physicians had never seen the disease in a patient before, Throne said.

"We hadn't had mumps in Washington in a long time," he said, noting that the outbreak is expected to keep growing, despite the health department's best efforts.

"It's been a continuous upwards track," Throne said of new cases. "Until we reach a point where no more vulnerable people are exposed, it may continue to grow."

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  • april

    How can it be considered 88% effective when "Of the school-age children infected in this outbreak, 87 percent were up to date on their mumps vaccinations, "

    Your percentages don't add up folks.

    Maybe if we actually controlled our borders and required people coming here legally to have full vaccines, we wouldn't have this problem. Notice that all of these outbreaks are in 'sanctuary cities'.

  • colchuck

    Washington State, a very liberal state where the parents heard or read the book by the Englishman that claimed that vaccines were bad, which has been proven to be false by medical professional. When you make the decision to not vaccinate your child you are risking your childs life.

  • Elizabeth

    Why are all the articles from February being posted again mid-Aug??? This is the 4th one in a row!

  • James Grant

    Well atleast he now has his Brown Shirts. I mean what self-respecting "Hister" impersonator can complete his image without his brown shirts....

  • ruelph

    Cost may be a problem, maybe we need to go back to the 1960s when vaccines were made by small specialty manufacturers, instead of big pharmaceutical firms,

  • cutter

    Don't blame the immigrants or illegals. The biggest group rejecting vaccines are highly affluent mothers of children becasue of their belief in the false medicine attributing autism to the vaccines. the biggest factor affecting autism is the age of the father and his sperm. Medical education doesn't to sway these reckless mothers.

  • Tams

    People are choosing not to vaccinate their children. It puts the rest of the kids at risk.

  • Dan Jefferies

    Mumps can make you blind sterile and deaf ... it got me on 2 of them when I was five ... it's affected my life greatly I can tell you ... so many things I wish I could have done..... oh well...

  • mary

    they don't go to school where mumps are usually picked up.

  • >>> Puddin' Pie <<<

    The vaccines are probably the wrong virus... they need to test it with an up to date virus...

    Have they tested these people... which virus is it?

  • Nick

    Washington hipsters, take the family Subaru on down to the doctor and have your kids vaccinated.

  • Seton Sickles

    Please get your shots, it's only a little stick in the arm, way better than the disease.

  • billtex

    Trump should build the wall up the eastern borders of these wacko states on the west coast

  • Stefan Michaud

    It's a nefarious GOP plot to eliminate blue states by undermining faith in vaccinations (not to mention science). When the coastal population has been killed, the hoi polloi in the flyover states will reign supreme.

  • mary

    Keep bringing in illegal aliens and refugee's and you will continue to have new and improved diseases in your schools, children coming in without medical checks. Where are the protesters for these children?