Mumps on the USS Fort McHenry

Like measles, we are seeing more mumps these days.

“Beginning in 1991, the military services implemented universal recruit immunization with a single dose of MMR vaccine, regardless of prior vaccination history. Shortly thereafter, and informed by the results of population serosurveys, the Air Force transitioned to a policy of targeted MMR vaccination, limiting the administration of MMR vaccine to recruits lacking serologic evidence of immunity to measles or rubella. With recent outbreaks of mumps, concerns have arisen that the practice of not specifically screening for mumps immunity in determining the need for MMR vaccine could lead to a relative increase in mumps risk among military recruits subject to screening. “

Eick et al on Incidence of mumps and immunity to measles, mumps and rubella among US military recruits, 2000–2004

Unlike measles, the MMR vaccine provides good, but not great protection against mumps.

And although military recruits are screened to see if they have low titers for measles and rubella, they still aren’t screened for mumps. The theory is that if their measles and rubella titers are low, then their mumps titer will be low too and they will get an MMR vaccine. Of course, this misses some who just have a low mumps titer, possibly an effect of waning immunity.

Mumps on the USS Fort McHenry

And that’s why we have been seeing mumps outbreaks on college campuses and most recently, on a Navy ship, although that isn’t a reason for everyone to go out and check their titers.

A tiny handful of measles outbreaks? There have been over 700 cases in the US during the past two years! There were only 37 cases in 2004.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr has a lot to say about mumps…

He says that mumps outbreaks have devastated fully vaccinated populations at Harvard, Temple, Syracuse, Louisiana State, IU, and the U of Missouri…

And that mumps “epidemics” haven’t been covered by the media, because they don’t want to embarrass Merck…

Why won’t the media cover the mumps outbreaks! Oh, wait…

He also seems to think that these mumps cases have caused a national security threat

Is any of this true?

The simple fact that you can find a ton of stories in the media about the mumps outbreaks (they are not epidemics) gives you a good clue that they aren’t.

What about the quarantined sailors on the USS Fort McHenry?

That is true, but consider that only 27 of 700 of them have gotten parotitis, presumed to have been caused by mumps.

While you would expect that no one would get mumps or any other vaccine-preventable disease these days, that is just under 4% of those on board the ship.

What would have happened in the pre-vaccine era?

Although deaths were rare, mumps caused a lot of considerable loss of service and sick time in the military in the pre-vaccine era.
Although deaths were rare, mumps caused a lot of considerable loss of service and sick time in the military in the pre-vaccine era.

A whole lot more people would have gotten sick!

In the pre-vaccine era, although mumps was supposed to be a common childhood illness, about 1/3 to 1/2 of military recruits had never had mumps.

That meant big outbreaks of mumps that were hard to control, unlike what we see today.

“This article reports a recent public health response to 3 imported mumps cases occurring at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, that resulted in a contact investigation for 109 close contacts across varied settings. No secondary mumps cases were identified.”

Public Health Response to Imported Mumps Cases – Fort Campbell, Kentucky, 2018

Instead, not only do fewer people get sick during mumps outbreaks these days, but fortunately, they have fewer complications.

What kind of complications?

Mumps causes kids to have fever, puffy cheeks, and a painful, swollen jaw.
Mumps causes kids to have fever, puffy cheeks, and a painful, swollen jaw.

In addition to a swollen jaw, mumps is known to cause orchitis, aseptic meningitis, oophoritis, pancreatitis, and encephalitis.

“Risk was reduced for hospitalization, mumps orchitis and mumps meningitis when patient had received 1 dose of measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. The protective effect of vaccination on disease severity is critical in assessing the total effects of current and future mumps control strategies.”

Young et al on Mumps Complications and Effects of Mumps Vaccination, England and Wales, 2002–2006

Fortunately, those complications are reduced when you get vaccinated. And so are your risks of actually getting mumps in the first place!

“This study demonstrates a significant preventive effect of two-dose vaccination against mumps complications (orchitis, meningitis, or encephalitis) and hospitalization for mumps.”

Orlíkováet al on Protective effect of vaccination against mumps complications, Czech Republic, 2007-2012.

Kennedy doesn’t mention a protective effect of the MMR vaccine, does he?

Remember, vaccines aren’t perfect, but even those that don’t work as well as the others still protect you from many of the worst complications and are much better than getting the disease naturally.

Mumps was often described as one of the top diseases that incapacitated soldiers in the prevaccine era.
Mumps was often described as one of the top diseases that incapacitated soldiers in the prevaccine era.

Vaccines are safe, with few risks, and are obviously necessary.

Is the mumps vaccine a national security threat? The only threat are the folks who continue to push anti-vaccine misinformation.

More on Mumps on the USS Fort McHenry

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