Mumps confirmed in Juneau for first time in 20 years

Rare disease reaches capital city as outbreak continues in Anchorage

Alison Gaines is the nurse manager at the Juneau Public Health Center. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

For the first time in 20 years, doctors have confirmed the presence of mumps in Juneau.

 

As of Thursday, there has been one confirmed case of the disease in Juneau and three possible cases, said Alison Gaines, the nurse manager at the Juneau Public Health Center. The first case was diagnosed in January, with the most recent suspected one springing up this past week, she said.

Amanda Tiffany, an epidemiologist at the Alaska Division of Public Health, said this is the first confirmed case of mumps in Juneau since 1997.

Mumps is a contagious disease that causes swelling in a person’s salivary glands. Other symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, fatigue and loss of appetite. The disease is almost never fatal, and long-term effects are relatively rare. Mumps can cause some hearing loss, Tiffany said, as well as inflammation of the brain, brain membrane, testicles or ovaries.

The main problem for people who have mumps, Tiffany said, is the pain that comes with the salivary gland swelling.

“I think the perception is that mumps is not such a big deal, like, ‘Well, you have it and then it goes away,’ but if you speak with anyone who had it, they were miserable,” Tiffany said.

Starting in the summer of 2017, though, an outbreak began in Anchorage. There have been 247 cases statewide (214 confirmed and 33 probable) since May of 2017, Tiffany said, with 96 percent of them being in Anchorage. The most recent large outbreak was in 1995, when there were 10 confirmed cases in Kodiak, Tiffany said.

The sole confirmed case in Juneau, Gaines said, was in a person who had recently traveled to Anchorage.

“There’s no way to know 100 percent,” Gaines said of whether the patient contracted mumps in Anchorage, “but there is a link there.”

The common MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccination prevents mumps, and Tiffany said more than 91 percent of Alaskans aged 13-17 are up to date on their MMR vaccination. Tiffany said if people don’t know whether they’re vaccinated, they should call their health care provider.

This past Monday, the Department of Public Health sent a notice to the Juneau School District and to licensed daycares in town alerting them to the recent outbreak. Early symptoms are similar to that of a regular cold, but those who believe they have mumps should call their doctor and set up an appointment, Tiffany said. Physicians will likely advise people to isolate themselves for the five days after facial swelling starts.

Gaines said that people shouldn’t hesitate to call their doctor or to even call the Public Health Center at 465-3353.

“We’re trying hard to track cases and stop the spread,” Gaines said, “and the easiest way to do that is to know the cases we have in town.”


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


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