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Alaska updates vaccine guidelines as mumps outbreak swells with over 200 cases

As Alaska's first mumps outbreak in decades continues to spread, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services updated its vaccination guidelines on Wednesday, allowing residents who would like to get a third dose of the vaccine to do so.

A child with mumps (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

"Because we are beginning to see cases identified in communities outside of Anchorage, it is becoming ever more difficult to determine who is at increased risk for acquiring mumps," the state said in a public health advisory.

The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is routinely administered to children in two doses.

Any Alaskan who would like additional protection against mumps — so long as it has been five years since they received their last mumps vaccine — may get a third vaccination, according to new guidelines.

Alaska's mumps outbreak began in May. As of Feb. 15, 214 confirmed and 33 probable cases of mumps had been identified.

"There is no sign that the outbreak is slowing down," the health advisory said.

The vast majority of those cases were in Anchorage. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough saw five cases, one came from the Gulf Coast, and one was in the Interior. Two cases were in Southeast Alaska.

On Friday, officials at Dimond High School in Anchorage notified students, parents and staff that "persons" at the high school have been diagnosed with mumps.

And on Tuesday, Alpenglow Elementary School sent out a message to parents that one case of mumps at the school had been "clinically diagnosed based on signs and symptoms." Lab results are pending and could take up to three weeks.

Mumps is a viral illness that causes headaches, fever, muscle aches, fatigue and swollen salivary glands around the jaw. In rare cases, it can lead to more dangerous complications, including deafness or meningitis.

The virus is passed through coughing, sneezing and touching objects with unwashed hands. Symptoms can take around two or three weeks to develop, and people are contagious for two days before salivary glands start to swell, and five days afterward.

The mumps vaccination is 88 percent effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For Alaska's current outbreak, of the 247 confirmed and probable cases, 39 percent had gotten two or more mumps vaccine doses, 15 percent had gotten one dose and 4 percent were not vaccinated. State officials were unable to verify vaccination for the remaining 41 percent of cases, according to Amanda Tiffany, epidemiologist with the Alaska Division of Public Health.

The state is recommending that health care providers ensure all patients are up to date on the vaccination.

For people working in a group setting like a school or church, or for Anchorage residents who self-identify as Pacific Islanders, a third dose is recommended if at least five years have passed since they received the vaccine.

Alaska's last mumps outbreak was in Kodiak in 1995, when 10 people were infected. The current outbreak far exceeds the last one of similar scale, in 1974, when 42 mumps cases were reported.

Wednesday's announcement is the second time that the state agency has modified its vaccine recommendations since the mumps outbreak began. In late December, the state recommended that people in high-risk groups get a third dose of the vaccine if it has been five years since their last one.

If you think you have mumps, the most important thing to do is isolate yourself for five days, health officials say. Call your health care provider and let them know you may have mumps before visiting, so you don't infect people in the waiting room.

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