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Mumps Strikes New York Area Jewish Communities

An old childhood illness has returned to strike the Jewish communities of New York and New Jersey. Mumps is on the rise.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 12/20/2009, 5:24 PM / Last Update: 12/20/2009, 6:39 PM

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The old childhood illness of mumps has returned to strike the Jewish communities of Greater Metropolitan New York, Rockland and Orange Counties, Lakewood, New Jersey and Quebec, Canada.

 

The outbreak, although one of the largest to have hit the U.S. since 2006, is still relatively small, with 57 confirmed cases in the Boro Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, and another 30 cases in Lakewood, New Jersey. At the end of October, the most recent date for which data was available, a total of 179 confirmed or probable cases had been reported from around the New York and New Jersey area, 83 percent of which were male. Another 15 cases were identified in Canada, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC).

 

Mumps is a highly contagious virus which is characterized in children by painful swelling (parotid inflammation) of the salivary glands in the neck, sometimes on one side, sometimes on both. The illness usually lasts about 10 days, and is accompanied by a headache and/or fever. Other symptoms include a sore face or ears, occasionally a rash, and sometimes a dry mouth. Deafness and meningo-encephalitis are among the rare complications that can result.

 

Outbreak Limited to Orthodox, Chassidic Jews – This Time

The outbreak so far appears to be limited to the Orthodox and Chassidic Jewish communities in Monsey, New Square, Kiryas Yoel, the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Boro Park and Williamsburg in New York, Lakewood, New Jersey, and Quebec, Canada.

 

According to the CDC, the outbreak was traced to an 11-year-old boy who had returned from a visit to the United Kingdom, where 4,000 “unvaccinated young adults” were sick with the virus. The boy went to summer camp in New York in August, passing the virus to 25 others, who in turn then returned home to their communities and passed it along to others. Most of the campers who caught the virus had been vaccinated, however.


Health Departments are stressing the importance of immunizing the children against all childhood illnesses, including mumps, measles and rubella – the MMR vaccine. According to the report, a number of parents interviewed by health officials had chosen not to immunize their children – but not all. There have also been a number of cases in which the victims had been fully immunized.

 

The Jewish communities are not the first ones to have been hit with such an epidemic, however.

 

The last time an outbreak of mumps struck the United States was in 2006. According to a study at Texas Children’s Hospital published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, a total of 2,597 cases of mumps were reported that year in 11 states within the 12-month period. The outbreak occurred primarily among university students ages 18 to 25. According to the report, many had received two doses of the MMR vaccine in childhood.

 

Main Issues: Contagion, and Infertility

Up to 20 percent of those affected can be asymptomatic – that is, they show no symptoms at all and thus may be contagious and spread the illness without being aware of it.

 

The other issue, one that is equally serious, is that in males past the age of puberty, there is a 30 percent chance of the virus also causing painful testicular swelling. This can result in infertility or subfertility.

 

It is passed through coughing and sneezing, sharing food or drinks, and kissing. The virus can also survive on various surfaces and then be spread after contact. Contagion lasts from approximately six to nine days after onset of symptoms, with an incubation period of anywhere between 14 to 25 days.

 

There is no specific treatment for the virus once it begins, other than giving painkillers such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Most of the time, the disease runs its course and confers lifetime immunity thereafter; it is not considered particularly dangerous except in very rare cases.

 

Not Immunized? Not Protected Against the Virus

The most common way to prevent mumps is to immunize against the disease with the mumps vaccine, which may be available in some areas separately but is most often combined with two other vaccines, those against measles and rubella, in the “MMR.” There is also another vaccine being used, the “MMRV,” that combines four immunizations; this includes the aforementioned three plus one against chickenpox (varicella) another childhood illness.

 

Herein lies the difficulty, however, and possibly the reason for the current outbreak: the MMR and the MMRV have in the past been associated with claims that they may have caused an increase in the number of cases of autism.

 

Since 1994, when the vaccine was deemed mandatory for all school-age children in the United States, an increase in the number of cases of autism has been documented, giving rise to speculation that there was a correlation between the two.

 

Researchers have denied any connection between the two issues, but parents and even some doctors remain unconvinced. The 1998 study in which a possible association between the MMR vaccine, bowel disease and autism was suggested has long since been discredited as “fatally flawed,” but the concern persisted, leading parents to avoid immunizing their children with the MMR vaccine.