SEATTLE — It’s the largest mumps outbreak in a decade and the latest outbreak is unusually affecting younger children.
“Trying to keep her from close contact basically,” parent Nikolaus Merkel said.
But how does Merkel do that when his child shares Everett High School with more than a thousand other students?
So far, more there are a dozen cases of mumps probable or confirmed at three Everett public schools.
Statewide that number is more than 620.
“People not vaccinating your kids put others in a lot of danger, this is a fear that shouldn’t be around anymore,” Snohomish County parent Stefi Hallstrom said.
But experts say they cannot blame the unvaccinated population for the worsening outbreak.
“Pockets of unvaccinated people do fuel certain diseases but we haven’t seen the connection of those unvaccinated people to the mumps outbreak,” Danielle Koenig with the state Health Department said.
The Health Department also cannot explain an unusual shift in mumps patients.
Usually the airborne virus heavily affects college kids who share dorms, for example. Lately, the people contracting the illness are younger, especially middle schoolers.
“One thing people theorizes, well, those kids ride the bus much more than high schoolers, are they shoved into a smaller spaces more often, they are not transferring classes as often,” Koenig said.
Many unanswered questions but the state’s directive is clear, vaccinate your children. Although most mumps patients have been vaccinated, health experts say that does not mean the vaccine is not effective.
“My child is vaccinated, I am OK there,” Merkel said.
More than 600 students out of 20,000 are not vaccinated in Everett public schools.
“I think that’s alarming, I think every kid should be vaccinated,” Hallstrom said.
Experts say even if you do get the mumps, a vaccination is the only way to significantly lessen severe complications like meningitis, which is the inflammation of the spinal cord and brain.
For people not vaccinated, the chances go up. In the pre-vaccine era, about 10% of people who got the mumps ended up with meningitis.
The vaccine is 88% effective with 2 doses. It is 78% effective with 1 dose.
Everyone is urged to get two doses with the exception of toddlers because they have to wait before getting their second dose. The first dose is given at 1 years-old. The second dose is given around kindergarten, so experts say parents of toddlers need to be more vigilant.