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Dr. Gupta explains: What is mumps?
01:24 - Source: CNN

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The CDC reports 2,879 cases of the mumps in 45 states and DC, the most since 2006

Arkansas and Iowa have been the hardest hit

CNN  — 

The United States is being hit with the most mumps cases in a decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The latest tally as of November 5 is 2,879 cases in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

Mumps is a contagious disease caused by a virus spread through saliva and mucus. The CDC recommends that children get two doses of the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella, but it is not 100% effective.

To respond to this year’s high numbers, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices – a panel of medical and public health experts who meet three times a year to offer vaccination guidance for the United States – is considering recommendation of a third dose of vaccine. It is unclear what age groups this would involve.

Communities and campuses

Before this year, the largest number of yearly mumps cases was tallied in 2006, when outbreaks in multiple states affected more than 6,500 people, primarily college students living on Midwest campuses.

Each year, the number of mumps cases fluctuates within a range of a couple hundred to a couple thousand cases, explained Dr. Manisha Patel, a medical officer at the CDC. This year, just two outbreaks make up the majority of cases, according to Patel. Arkansas has had about 1,870 cases and Iowa has had 683 cases, according to state health department data.

Iowa had a large outbreak in a university setting with additional cases in the community, Patel said, and the outbreak in Arkansas is community-based. Four other states – Indiana, Illinois, Massachusetts and Oklahoma – have also reported more than 100 cases this year, with several university campuses implicated in these outbreaks.

Most of the cases in Massachusetts have occurred at Harvard. Additional infections, which may or may not be related to that school, have occurred among students within the Boston-Cambridge area, according to Dr. Alfred DeMaria, medical director and state epidemiologist at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

The outbreak at Harvard started at the beginning of the year and slowed in the summer, with additional activity this fall, he explained. Public health authorities are still looking into possible connections.

“The underlying theme of where outbreaks do occur are in congregate settings,” Patel said, noting that college campuses and other areas where there is crowding and close contact is “typical for mumps” because of the sharing of saliva: by coughing, sneezing, kissing and sharing utensils, lipstick or cigarettes.

Ann Garvey, a deputy state epidemiologist at the Iowa Department of Public Health, said the outbreak in her state is not a recent phenomenon.

“Last year, we had over 400 cases, and this year (PDF), we’re on track to have more than that,” she said.