MOSES LAKE — There are currently nine confirmed cases of mumps in Grant County, with another 11 under investigation, according to the Grant County Health District.
“Eight of those nine are at the [Columbia Basin] Job Corps, but some of those 11 are outside,” said Theresa Atkinson, administrator of the Grant County Health District.
The ninth case was discovered this week in the Ephrata public schools. As of Feb. 8, there were 404 diagnosed cases of mumps in Washington state, an increase of more than 100 in less than two weeks.
Health officials are not entirely sure why mumps is spreading this winter.
“We don’t know for sure,” said David Johnson, a spokesman for the state Department of Health in Olympia. “It may be cyclical, but we don’t know, and it’s hard to say why now.”
Johnson said the current outbreak began in Spokane and King counties and gained momentum in October as it began to spread statewide.
“The folks most vulnerable are those who are not vaccinated. And it affects those who live in close quarters, such as schools, colleges, and hospitals,” he said.
The most effective way of preventing the mumps, which is a viral disease that infects the salivary glands of the lower jaw, is the measels-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, which will provide protection to 90 percent of those who receive it. While most people recover fairly quickly, the mumps can cause long-term damage to the brain and central nervous system for some.
Mumps has fairly generic symptoms — fever, headache, muscle aches, loss of appetite, and then eventually the painful swelling of the lower jaw. Anyone who suspects they might have the mumps should stay home to both rest and recover and avoid infecting others.
“The vaccine is working, or the outbreak would be so much worse without our high rates of vaccination in our county,” Adkinson said.
However, Adkinson also said that the county’s “herd immunity” — the overall immunity of the population — has been reduced because not enough people have either been vaccinated or received that second MMR booster to improve immunity.
While most insurance programs will cover the MMR vaccine, Johnson said the state will cover for free any necessary vaccinations for those 18 and younger, and in emergency conditions, local jurisdictions can vaccinate adults at no cost as well.
In fact, Adkinson said the health district has provided much of its MMR vaccine supplies to the Columbia Basin Job Corps so that students there could be immunized.
“We have no surplus, the Job Corps purchased a lot of the vaccine and administer them on site,” she said.
Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.