Ask the Pharmacist
by Ron & Marla Chapleau

March 6, 2017


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Q) What do I need to know about the recent mumps outbreak I am hearing about in Toronto and Western Canada?

A) Mumps is a viral disease which affects one of the saliva producing glands in our neck, the parotid gland.

One of the hallmark clues that someone has the mumps (keep in mind that the symptoms do not appear until 2-3 weeks after being exposed to the virus) is the swelling of that gland which causes the cheeks and neck to puff out on one or both sides. Fever, headache, muscle aches, fatigue and/or weakness may also be present.

 Mumps is easily spread through the sharing of infected saliva. You donít have to be kissing someone to be the recipient of this virus either. The sharing of water bottles (sports teams are conducive to this as the Vancouver Canucks are finding out to their chagrin), or utensils (common for those living in congregated housing such as college/university residences) with an infected individual or just breathing in saliva droplets after they sneeze or cough are all that is needed to contract the virus! 

Since it is a communicable disease, those that knowingly have the mumps are expected to quarantine themselves in their home until they are better. Be mindful, however, that since symptoms donít appear for 2-3 weeks, people are unknowingly spreading the virus while they continue living their daily lives.

Now, we do not suggest that you stop breathing to avoid picking up the virus but you can reduce your exposure by having your own unshared labeled water bottle, utensils and other dishware.

You might be wondering why we are seeing this influx of mumps now since the mumps vaccine has been incorporated into the vaccination program since 1970. There are a few answers for that.

 First, when 90% of the population gets vaccinated, even the 10% that chose not to vaccinate (or cannot) are protected from the disease because of what we term, herd immunity (you can thank the 90% that did vaccinate for this effect).

Today, childhood vaccination rates are as low as 70% in some provinces and 40% in some communities, as more and more parents opt out of these programs for a variety of reasons which, putting political correctness aside, is almost always a mistake that may affect both your child and those they will associate with for the rest of their life. This stops the herd immunity effect and allows the disease to gain strength and be able to spread more readily.

Secondly, Health Canada decided in 1996 that a second (booster) dose of the mumps vaccine is required and this was brought into the publicly funded vaccination schedule at that time. Therefore, only those born after this date are likely to have had two doses.

 Thirdly, though the vaccine does reduce your probability of getting the mumps, it is not a guarantee that you still wonít get it. One dose of the vaccine is about 78% effective and two doses is 88% effective.

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The Toronto outbreak has been linked to 18-35 year olds who frequented select Toronto bars. Of those affected, 60% had either not been vaccinated or were under vaccinated since they had only one dose. Remember that it was only in 1996 that we began the two dose schedule.

One way to reduce our risk of contracting the mumps is to ensure you are immunized against them. If you were born prior to 1996, you may only have had one dose and should consider getting a booster. If you are someone that might think that it is not so bad having chipmunk cheeks for a little while and therefore choose to not vaccinate, we encourage you to reconsider.

The symptoms of mumps go well beyond just swollen cheeks and fever. For the male population, the swelling may also occur in the testicles which may result in infertility (29% of the Toronto cases experienced this swelling).

Though rare, women may experience swelling in the ovaries or breasts which may also lead to infertility. Other rare but serious complications that may occur with the mumps virus are permanent deafness, pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) and meningitis (swelling of the brain). These are serious penalties to pay for a disease that can be effectively, and safely, prevented.

For information on this or any other topic, contact the pharmacists at Gordon Pharmasave, Your Health and Wellness Destination in Port Elgin and Kincardine.

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Monday, March 06, 2017