Amid Texas’ 20-year-high mumps outbreak and an elevated number of cases reported around the United States this year, some health experts are focusing on the potential need for a third immunization dose to be added to current vaccination guidelines.

The Texas health department just disclosed 221 mumps cases this year, the largest total since 1994’s 234 cases. While not highly deadly, mumps can bring about long-term complications, from deafness to encephalitis.

Mumps Outbreaks In Focus

"We have largely seen outbreaks in North Texas, so the Dallas-Fort Worth area and some of the surrounding counties," said Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the state’s health services office, adding that Dallas County on its own has gone through two or three significant outbreaks.

In Johnson County, for instance, 189 cases were recorded in 2016 and 2017 among children as well as college students.

Mumps is a contagious condition resulting from a virus. It usually begins within a couple of days and patients exhibit symptoms such as fever, headaches, muscle aches, fatigue, and a painful swelling of the cheeks and neck.

It normally takes an average of two weeks for mumps symptoms to develop. Highly vulnerable are students since they share food and cutlery frequently.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that in the first three months of this year alone, there were 1,965 cases of the disease in 37 states. Most of these outbreaks are in college campuses.

Last year, there were more than 5,000 documented cases at a 10-year high.

Waning Vaccine Effects Over Time?

The rise in the incidence of mumps has prompted health officials and physicians to eye a potential third vaccination dose to bolster ongoing immunization standards.

Fox Business reported that CDC press officer Ian Branam mentioned that the vaccine’s protective effect may possibly be decreasing with time. The agency, however, is said to be probing many different factors that could be contributing to the rise in cases.

“There hasn’t been any evidence to suggest that the MMR vaccine does not protect against circulating mumps strains,” Branam said. “However, outbreaks have occurred in highly vaccinated communities, particularly in close-contact settings, despite the protection afforded by mumps vaccination.”

Dr. William Schaffner, preventive medicine professor at Vanderbilt University, said that while the vaccine is “excellent for the short term,” it could start to wane in certain individuals after 10 to 15 years. The protection does not completely go away but allows the person to get mumps in a certain situation, he explained.

Based on current CDC immunization guidelines, kids should receive two doses of MMR-II, a live virus vaccine for protection against measles, mumps, and rubella. These will be given at 12 to 15 months and at 4 to 6 years.

The CDC stressed that the two vaccine doses have an 88 percent effectiveness against mumps, while a single dose is deemed 78 percent effective. The agency is already looking at the need for a third dose as part of the discussion on how it can best use vaccines to get mumps outbreaks under control, Branam said.

Prior to the country’s mumps immunization program in 1967, there were around 186,000 cases reported each year, and since then a more than 99 percent reduction in mumps cases had been witnessed, the CDC noted.

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