A 4th grader in Gilbert was diagnosed with the mumps last week. Had all the staff and faculty in the school been previously vaccinated for the mumps at the school- it really would’ve been no big deal. But, it turns out that 19 kids at the school hadn’t been vaccinated for the mumps (mainly because their parents chose to sign exemptions from our vaccination requirements).

As a result, the 19 previously unvaccinated kids can’t go to class for about a month. Of course- the public health system doesn’t want to exclude the unvaccinated kids from school, but there’s really no other choice at this point- because it’s the only tool left to stop a potential cascade of new cases. Mumps can be pretty serious and spreads easily. It’s a virus that causes swelling in the salivary glands, high fever, loss of appetite and fatigue. There can be a lot of serious complications including meningitis, spontaneous abortions in pregnant women, and sterility in males. It’s spread by sneezing, coughing, contact with mucus membrane secretions, etc. My mom says it almost killed me in 1962.

Our official rules for this kind of situation say: “When a mumps case has been at a school or child care establishment, the administrator of the school or child care establishment, either personally or through a representative shall: a) Consult with the local health agency to determine who shall be excluded and how long each individual shall be excluded from the school or child care establishment, and b) Comply with the local health agency’s recommendations for exclusion.” The 26 day exclusion period ordered by Maricopa County represents a full “incubation period” after exposure- the minimum needed to ensure that mumps won’t spread to additional people in the school.

Dr. Bob England from Maricopa County Public Health said it best in the paper this week; “It matters whether people around you have been vaccinated. It matters at least as much as it matters whether you’ve been vaccinated. No vaccine is perfect. Even people who have been vaccinated can contract diseases if they’re exposed to them. The key is to never be exposed. That’s how we’ve made all those previously common childhood diseases so rare. It’s not that the vaccine is so perfect. It’s that you get enough people vaccinated that when one person comes in with a disease that germ has a hard time finding another person to jump to. It’s called the herd effect.

Overall, 95% of Maricopa County elementary school kids are up to speed on the mumps vaccine, but it’s not evenly distributed. Some schools are at 100%, but one Maricopa County school is only at about 50%! Our team does a detailed annual analysis of immunization rates by school and gives that info to each of the county health departments every year- so they can do some intervention work.