Public Health Officials and Local Health System Officials Worry about Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

(Salt Lake City, UT) – In light of the nationwide measles outbreak and recent cases of mumps in Utah, public health officials have an important message about vaccinations. “Although we haven’t seen any measles cases in Utah this year, we are seeing a dramatic increase in cases of mumps, one of the diseases preventable with the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine. People who are at risk for mumps may also be at increased risk for measles. These mumps cases are a warning that the introduction of measles in the state could result in a large outbreak if we are not vigilant,” said Allyn Nakashima, MD, Utah Department of Health (UDOH).

Since the beginning of the year, 13 cases of mumps have been identified throughout the state. Utah typically only sees two or three cases annually. Mumps is a contagious disease caused by a virus and usually starts with fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite. Symptoms may occur two to three weeks after exposure to the virus and may include swollen, painful salivary glands on one or both sides of the face (parotitis). Complications can include inflammation of the testicles or ovaries, and deafness. While mumps is mild for most who are infected, it can be serious for infants and persons who are immunocompromised.

Although no measles cases have been identified in Utah this year, the U.S. is seeing a dramatic increase in cases. Outbreaks are ongoing in several U.S. states including New York, New Jersey, Michigan, California, and Washington and measles cases have recently been reported in states surrounding Utah. The number of cases of measles in the U.S. this year is the highest reported since measles was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000. Measles is substantially more dangerous than mumps and other childhood diseases. Measles causes high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes followed by a rash. Complications of the disease may include ear infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, brain damage, and death.

Andrew Pavia, MD, Chief, Division of Pediatric Infectious Disease, University of Utah Health says the MMR vaccine provides excellent protection from mumps, measles, and rubella. There is no treatment since they are caused by viruses and taking antibiotics won’t help. “Before vaccination programs for mumps and measles started in the 1960s in the U.S. mumps and measles affected almost all children, sometimes with tragic consequences. Since the pre-vaccine era, there has been a more than 99% decrease in mumps and measles cases in the U.S. Unfortunately, we are seeing a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases due to low vaccination rates in some areas.”

Tamara Sheffield, MD, Medical Director of Community Health and Prevention for Intermountain Healthcare, adds, “Measles is so contagious that if one person has it, 90% of the people who are not immune and are close to that person will also become infected. Due to the serious complications that may result from contracting these illnesses, the MMR vaccine is much safer than actually getting sick.”

The MMR vaccine has been in use for more than three decades in the U.S. and is proven to be safe and effective. Talk to your healthcare provider about the MMR vaccine and other vaccines to protect you and your family.

If you think you have been exposed to any of these diseases and may be infected, avoid public places and contact your healthcare provider before visiting a clinic to prevent further spread of disease.

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Rebecca Ward
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