The news that more than a dozen National Hockey League (NHL)
players and referees were recently diagnosed with mumps has caught some
headlines. A once common childhood illness, mumps has been nearly eradicated
since a vaccine was introduced in the late 1960s. So why the comeback now?

Dr. Edward Butler, chief academic officer and hospital epidemiologist at Hallmark Health and chairman of the Department of Medicine at Lawrence Memorial Hospital of Medford says "the mumps vaccine is very effective in the short term, but after 10 years or so, that effectiveness begins to wane."

"Several years after the vaccine was introduced, we began to see a number of pre-teens developing mumps, and we realized that a "booster" was needed to ramp up protection."

In the United States, the mumps vaccine is now given in two
phases: once at age 12-15 months, and then again sometime between ages 5-10.
There is, however, a generation of young adults who fell outside the window of
receiving a booster. There are also a number of international players who may
not have been exposed to the same vaccination program as those in the United States,
and as a result, may never have received the vaccine.

"We've seen small outbreaks in the United States over the
past few years," added Dr. Butler. "Typically they occur among groups of
similar types of people in close quarters, such as college students. NHL
players sharing locker rooms could be another example."

Mumps is an infection of the parotid glands, which sit between
the cheek and the ear. Symptoms are similar to the flu, including painful
swelling around the face, fever, sore throat, aches and pains, difficulty
chewing or swallowing and nausea. In some extreme cases, meningitis and
encephalitis can occur. There is no specific treatment for mumps because
viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics, but it typically runs its course in
10-12 days. The virus is spread through close contact with an infected person's
saliva, and the long incubation period of one to three weeks makes it hard to
pinpoint an exact source of infection.

According to Dr. Butler, there are typically about 500 cases
of the mumps each year in the United States. "Most of the cases seen are due to
the waning of the vaccine, or the fact that a small population remain
susceptible despite the vaccine. Regardless, it is important for all children
to receive the vaccination as well as the booster. When it comes to fighting
mumps, one dose is good, but two doses are better."

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