Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mumps Outbreak Response

Most of us think of mumps as a thing of the past, if we think of it at all. But viruses tend to hibernate, mutate, and pop up again when and where we least expect. As an information specialist in public health, I see the cycle often.
Mumps is a viral infection that causes fever, headache, and inflammation of the glands under the jaw. Once a common childhood illness, mumps has been largely contained through a nation-wide vaccination program that began with the first vaccine licensed in 1967. Further information on mumps can be found via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Mumps page.
In December 2010, a mumps outbreak was identified in the Texas correctional system. Inmates live in close quarters, and there is frequent movement within and between facilities—the perfect scenario for virus transmission.
Reading mumps test results
Outbreak-related specimens were sent to the Department of State Health Services Laboratory in Austin, which began testing mumps specimens on December 15, 2010. The average incidence of mumps in Texas is around 26 cases per year. In less than three months, the Viral Isolation laboratory verified mumps in 12 of the 42 submitted specimens (saliva, throat swabs, and urine). Testing was also done in the Diagnostic Serology Section; during the same time frame, three specimens (serum in specialized tubes) tested positive for mumps, of 36 specimens submitted.
This was just the beginning. Time and a second mumps outbreak in the correctional system brought the total cases to 40. The public health response was decisive and well-planned. Outbreak response plans were activated. Vaccination and quarantine halted the mumps virus before it spread through the state correctional system and beyond, to the community at large.
Samples forwarded to the CDC will be used to determine if vaccines need to be adjusted to account for a new type of mumps. Within the public health system, each outbreak is treated as a learning opportunity. We act quickly and then we analyze the process and outcome to see where we can improve.
My career in public health resulted from a personal fascination with outbreak scenarios, combined with a near-miss at becoming a nurse before obtaining an English degree. Those who work around me have varied but similar stories. Public health work progresses because we care.
My personal fascination has even turned toward my creative pursuits. Dormant is fiction, but it is science fiction based on experience. Though admittedly tweaked for storytelling purposes, my novel remains rooted in fact. What would happen if public health responders were missing or ineffective?


  1. This is why I will never understand the anti-vaccination people. I just can't get my brain around why their speculations are in any way worth the risk of contracting some terrible illnesses for NO GOOD reason. Grr.

    I'm a bacteria nerd myself. I have no idea why I'm fascinated with the little buggers, but I am. :)

  2. I'm fascinated by thermophiles that live around thermal vents at the bottom of the ocean. Their source of energy comes from the center of the Earth and not the sun. They can also withstand temperatures hot enough to melt lead. Talk about stranger than fiction!

  3. Coral: I agree wholeheartedly! Vaccination is so important! At the health department we know how crucial vaccinations are to our readiness, so we hold employee vaccination clinics.

    When vaccine was scarce during the H1N1 Influenza A outbreak in April 2009, we were unable to hold vaccination clinics. I was pregnant with my son at the time and I still had a hard time getting the vaccine. Finding the vaccine became a personal quest for my husband and me. More on that story in another blog.

    I understand your fascination. Viruses have just intrigued me more. I think it all started with my study of the 1918 influenza pandemic.

    Robert: I can't say that I know much about thermophiles, but it is amazing that something can survive under those conditions. I can see how they got their name.