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Health, Science & Tech

Mumps on the Move in Western Pennsylvania

The National Hockey League is not the only place mumps are being  found in Western Pennsylvania and public health officials say they are ready to react.

The Sharpsville Area School District in Mercer County canceled classes and sporting events Monday due to a possible mumps infection, according to the district’s website. At least one individual is suspected of carrying the mumps virus and schools are expected to reopen Tuesday unless otherwise announced.

The virus, which has infected five Pittsburgh Penguins players, can cause fever, headache, muscle aches, and the swelling of the salivary glands.

Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, said the county is working with the Penguins to make sure there isn’t an outbreak in the Pittsburgh region.

“We’ve been actively involved in monitoring both any additional cases of the Penguins, and also any potential community cases,” she said. “At this point in time, we have not had any documented cases in our community.”

To monitor the virus, Hacker said a detailed history is gathered from the infected individual to track where they’ve gone and who they were in contact with. Those people with whom he has had contact are then examined as well. According to Hacker, the illness spreads through droplets of bodily fluid, such as mucus or saliva, so those in a large space with an infected person are not at risk.

Most of the infected Penguins players, according to Hacker, had received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine recently. The shot is known to be about 80 percent effective at preventing the mumps, so Hacker said it’s unclear whether the recent string of infections are due to bad luck or a change in the virus.

“If they (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) see a real uptick in mumps that would cause them to reassess whether or not the current vaccine they have is covering all of the strains of this particular virus,” Hacker said.

Holli Senior, deputy press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health said vaccinations are still the most effective method of preventing the mumps infection in adults and children.

“Mumps used to be a very common illness in the United States,” she said. “And since the vaccine, we now see, maybe, a couple hundred cases a year. The decline has been unreal.”

Before 1967, about 186,000 mumps cases were reported each year according to the CDC. Now, that number ranges from a several hundred to a few thousand annually.