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Protect yourself against mumps

With Toronto facing its worst outbreak in years, learn how to keep yourself safe

With the outbreak of the mumps virus, seen here, in Toronto has not made its way easy to Durham Region, health officials say residents can still take precautions to prevent getting sick.

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

The City of Toronto is on the verge of having its worst outbreak of mumps in recent history, with 31 confirmed cases thus far. While the Region of Durham has been spared thus far, that doesn’t mean residents can`t be proactive.

Mumps, also known as epidemic parotitis, is caused by the mumps virus.

“The most common symptom is the swelling of the salivary glands or parotid glands, and it can make your neck or cheek bulge out on one or both sides,” says Denise Sampson, a public health nurse with the Region of Durham.

“Rarely, it can have serious complications that could include swelling of the testicles and ovaries, hearing loss or a type of meningitis. Those are rare, though.”

Other symptoms of mumps include fever, muscle pain, exhaustion and headaches, with symptoms typically coming 16 to 18 days after exposure and lasting for seven to 10 days.

Sampson says mumps is spread via direct contact with an infected person’s saliva or nasal secretions.

“If you live in a household with someone who’s diagnosed with the mumps, living in close quarters, being in contact with their secretions – kissing, coughing, sneezing, sharing food or drinks, eating utensils, lipstick, toothbrush, mouth guards. Sometimes when young kids share toys, they put their mouth on it,” she says.

The outbreak in Toronto is believed to have started in bars in the city’s west end, primarily hitting people ages 18 through 35. However, the outbreak has now reached younger parts of the population, with the Toronto District School Board reporting four confirmed cases there.

Sampson says the reason many in the 18-35 age demographic are more susceptible to catching mumps is because of changes to vaccination schedules more than 20 years ago.

“Some people only did get a one-dose series. The immunization schedule changed at a certain point. But what the general thought is that anyone born before 1970 has what we call herd immunity. There was enough mumps circulating in the community at that time that you had immunity or you likely had the mumps,” Sampson says.

“Those people born between 1975 and 1995 were likely only offered a single dose of the MMR vaccine as a young child. And then in 1996, there was quite a campaign that was done related to measles, and some children got the MMR vaccine or some got a measles only vaccine.”

While the number of mumps cases in Durham Region is low – there were only five reported cases in the region in 2016 – there are steps people can take to help prevent themselves from getting sick.

“The best way to make sure you don’t get it is make sure that your vaccines status is up to date, especially depending on which age group you’re in. Then you can reduce your risk by not having exposure to other people’s mouth and nasal secretions – don’t share food, drinks, water bottles, towels or mouth guards,” she says, adding that people should also be sure to wash their hands and stay home if they’re sick.

“That’s for many infections that are bacterial or viral out in the community. The winter is a great time to breed certain things, so it’s a good time to use those skills.”

To learn whether your vaccinations are up to date and if you need another mumps vaccination shot, please consult with your doctor or other health professional.

For more information, you can call the Durham Health Connection line at 1-800-841-2729.