The MMR in the name “MMR vaccine” isn’t just a long way of saying mister vaccine. The first M stands for measles, as in the ongoing measles outbreak in the state of Washington that has led to a statewide emergency. The R is for rubella, as in a rubella case recently appeared in a major Detroit auto show. Then, there’s the other M, which stands for mumps.
With the other two viruses making headlines, perhaps the mumps virus felt a bit left out of the party. Not for long, though. The mumps virus has now made another appearance, this time in Houston, Texas. According to the Houston Health Department, the mumps virus has infected at least seven people at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Houston. In a statement, David Persse, MD, who is the Physician Director of Emergency Medical Services and the Public Health Authority, Department of Health & Human Services for the City of Houston, said, “since these individuals were isolated inside the facility during the period they were infectious, we do not anticipate these cases posing a threat to the community.”
Even if these mumps cases are properly isolated, these may not be isolated cases of mumps if people across the country continue to refuse to have their kids receive the MMR vaccine. The mumps virus, like the measles and rubella viruses, is quite contagious. It doesn’t take much for the virus to start spreading. If you are infected by the virus, you can have the virus in your saliva and mucus and, in turn, spread the virus to others by doing anything with your mucus or saliva outside your body. That means coughing, sneezing, talking (especially if you rain spit when you talk), kissing, nuzzling, greeting people with your nose, shaking hands if you don’t wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, or sharing things that your saliva or mucus may have touched.
For most cases of the mumps, think chipmunks or even “chipmumps.” The mumps virus can make you look like a chipmunk. Not that you will begin eating nuts furiously and grow a busy tail. Rather, you can get puffy chipmunk-like cheeks and a swollen jaw. This results from the virus causing your salivary glands to swell. The medical term for such inflamed and tender salivary glands is parotitis, which is pronounced like the bird “parrot” plus “-itis.” The picture below shows where these salivary glands, otherwise known as the parotid glands, are located:
Accompanying symptoms may include a fever, headaches, muscle aches, loss of appetite, and a general feeling of ugh. The symptoms can take a while to appear, anywhere between 12 to 25 days after the virus climbs aboard the “you” train. Most commonly, the symptoms will last no longer than a few weeks. Not everyone will have symptoms. Yes, even if you are sexy and you know it, you could even be infected with the virus without knowing it.
If you ask, what’s so bad about looking like a chipmunk? After all, aren’t there people who dress up like chipmunks? The greater concern about the mumps virus are the complications that may occur.
If you have balls, your testicles could get inflamed (3.3 to 10% of those with balls). This is otherwise known as orchitis or owwwwwwwch. With orchitis, everything you do with or close to your balls can be painful. That includes touching them, adjusting them, urinating, and ejaculating. Heck, even thinking about it can be painful. Your balls may become bigger, but that’s nothing to be proud about. You may also have blood in your semen, abnormal discharge, or swelling of your prostate and the lymph nodes in your groin. While most cases of mumps orchitis eventually resolve without permanent damage, there is the small chance that your fertility can be affected.
In less than 1% of all cases, the mumps virus can affect other parts of your body as well, causing them to become inflamed and tender. Possibilities include your ovaries, pancreas, or nipples. These complications typically will not have long term effects.
The biggest concern are the very rare cases in which the mumps virus infects and inflames your brain (encephalitis) or the tissues surrounding your brain and spinal cord (meningitis). These are medical emergencies and can lead to deafness, brain damage or even death. Again, such serious complications of the mumps are very rare (less than 1% of all mumps cases) but are possible.
If you want to avoid any of these possibilities. there is a simple solution. Get the combination measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine or the measles-mumps-rubella-varicella (MMRV) vaccine. One dose of the mumps vaccine is on average 78% effective at preventing mumps infections. Two doses is on average 88% effective. Yes, this effectiveness can vary from person to person. Yes, you can still get the mumps if you are vaccinated. But the mumps vaccine can significantly reduce your risk of getting the mumps. Nothing else even comes close to doing so. No supplement. No special diet. No chiropractic manipulation. No potion. No homeopathic remedy. No wall.
The effectiveness of the mumps vaccine also depends on other people around you getting the vaccine. The more people around you who get the vaccine, the better you are protected. That’s because the purpose of vaccination programs is not just to protect individuals who get vaccinated but to keep the virus from finding open parking spaces or motels to keep spreading in a population. People who don’t get vaccinated are basically open parking spaces or motels, offering the virus a place to rest and reproduce. Yes, if you don’t vaccinate your kid, you are making your kid a cheap sleazy motel for viruses. If the mumps virus keeps spreading in a population, you can thank those who don’t get vaccinated for being so kind and hospitable to the virus.
So over the past month, the U.S. has been given an M, another M, and an R. What’s that spell? More problems if more people don’t get the MMR vaccine.