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Is my baby protected during a mumps outbreak?
Q: I'm a 21-year-old college student with a 2-year-old son. There's been a recent outbreak of mumps in my area. How do I protect my baby and me from the infection?
A: In 2006, Iowa and 11 other Midwestern states had more than 4,000 cases of mumps, the largest outbreak in more than a decade. Most cases have been in adults age 18 to 24, but people of all ages, from babies to the elderly, have gotten ill. It's good to think about protecting yourself, your child and other family members and friends.

Mumps is a viral infection that causes fever and swelling of the parotid or salivary glands in the cheeks. It can also rarely cause orchitis (inflammation of the testes, which can cause sterility), meningitis and encephalitis (infection of the brain), deafness and other complications. It's spread by close contact through saliva and coughing. Mumps had become rare since routine immunization of young children started 40 years ago. In this outbreak, the people most likely to catch mumps were those who hadn't been immunized or those who had received only one dose of the vaccine rather than the currently recommended two doses.

To prevent the further spread of mumps, health authorities recommend the following:

1. Two doses of the mumps vaccine for all children, college students and healthcare workers. Make sure that your son received the first dose of the MMR vaccine at 12 to15 months of age, and that he receives the second dose at 4 to 6 years. If your child is exposed to someone with mumps, health authorities may even recommend giving him his second dose early for greater protection. For many young adults like yourself, only one dose was recommended when you were young, so be sure to check your own medical records and make sure that you received the second dose.

2. Reducing exposure to people sick with mumps. People who exhibit symptoms of mumps should be examined by their health provider. If it's diagnosed, they should stay home and reduce their contact with others until nine days after the start of the illness. If there's an outbreak at school, people who are not adequately immunized are advised to get immunized and avoid exposure to others during the outbreak.

Also remember to follow good hygiene practices. When you cough, cover your mouth with your elbow instead of coughing into the air or your hands. And, wash your hands frequently.

For more information about mumps and other infectious diseases, visit the Centers for Disease Control website, www.cdc.gov.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician