Mumps Strikes 245, Puzzling Iowa Officials
- April 1, 2006
*Mumps Strikes 245, Puzzling Iowa Officials*
By GRETCHEN RUETHLING
Perplexed health officials are trying to find the cause of a
skyrocketing number of mumps cases in Iowa, the nation's largest
outbreak of the infection in 17 years.
At least 245 cases have been reported in Iowa in the past three months.
The state previously averaged five per year. The number is approaching
the average annual number reported nationwide.
"When you expect five and you get 245, this is pretty serious," said
Patricia Quinlisk, state epidemiologist at the Iowa department of public
health. "We're trying to get ahead of it and get it stopped."
The most recent epidemic of mumps occurred in Douglas County, Kan., with
269 cases from 1988 to 1989, said Lola Russell, a spokeswoman for the
federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
College students in Iowa account for about 23 percent of the reported
cases of the infection, commonly transmitted by coughing or sneezing.
About half of the cases are people ages 17 to 25.
Close quarters in dormitories, classrooms and cafeterias and perhaps a
lower vaccination rate on college campuses might have made the student
population more vulnerable, Ms. Quinlisk said.
"It could be that on some of these college campuses, they were not as
well vaccinated as we'd like them to be," she said. But she added, "Our
law does not allow us to identify entities associated with outbreaks."
The infection is characterized by symptoms that include fever, headache
and swollen salivary glands under the jaw. At least 66 percent of the
infected people in Iowa had previously received the recommended two
doses of the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella.
"It's working at a 95 percent efficacy rate, which is darn good," Ms.
Quinlisk said of the vaccine, which is required of school-age children.
"We don't understand why the vaccine doesn't take in some people."
At least 14 people with symptoms were being examined in three
neighboring states this week.
The strain is the one that caused an epidemic of about 56,000 cases in
the United Kingdom last year.
The state is recommending that patients be isolated for five days.
* Copyright 2006The New York Times Company
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