BOZEMAN, Mont. — Three new cases of the mumps have been reported in Bozeman schools, and nurses are calling parents whose children aren’t vaccinated and face the greatest risk to ask that those kids be kept at home.
The Gallatin City-County Health Department and Bozeman School District sent a notice to parents on Monday saying that two cases of the mumps have occurred at Emily Dickinson Elementary School and a third at Chief Joseph Middle School.
This is the second outbreak of the contagious disease in Bozeman since early December, when five cases were reported at Morning Star Elementary.
Students whose vaccinations are up to date probably have a great deal of immunity to the mumps, said Matt Kelley, county health officer.
Students who aren’t vaccinated face a greater risk of contracting the disease. They aren’t forced to get a vaccine, but may be required to stay home from school for 25 days or longer, depending on the outbreak. Kids who aren’t immunized may be able to get a shot and return to school.
“Our focus is on protecting the most vulnerable,” Kelley said. “Those who are most likely to catch or transmit the disease don’t have the vaccine. We’re making recommendations, sometimes requirements, asking parents to keep kids out of school for their own protection.”
Montana law requires public school students to be vaccinated against mumps. Parents can seek a medical exemption or request a religious exemption.
About 3 to 4 percent of all Bozeman students have exemptions, said Rob Watson, Bozeman school superintendent. If parents have questions, he encouraged them to contact their doctors or the health department.
“We want to recognize parents are worried and alleviate their fears,” Watson said.
Mumps is a contagious disease caused by a virus. It typically starts with a few days of fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness and loss of appetite, followed by swollen salivary glands, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Children typically experience swelling along the jaw, which can be uncomfortable or painful. Swelling can last two to 10 days. It can take 12 to 25 days for a child to show symptoms.
If a child has symptoms consistent with mumps, Kelley asked parents to keep the child home and contact the family’s health provider, even if the child has been vaccinated.
The virus is typically passed from person to person through saliva. To avoid the virus, people should wash hands often with soap and water, avoid sharing utensils or cups, disinfect doorknobs, tables and toys, and cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
Gallatin County public health nurses will contact parents of children at the two schools who have been exposed to the disease and talk with them directly, Kelley said. If a parent isn’t called, it means their child hasn’t been identified as being in close contact with the disease.
With two shots, the vaccine is 88 percent effective, according to CDC. That means vaccinated people are nine times less likely to get the mumps, but it’s still possible to contract the disease through close contact. If a vaccinated person does get the disease, it will likely be less severe.
Before the vaccine, the mumps was a common childhood disease. It was one of the major causes of deafness in children. In rare cases it can cause swelling of the brain or sterility in men and boys.
Since the vaccination program began in 1967, the number of reported cases has plummeted from 186,000 a year nationally to around 300 a year from 2011 to 2013.
However, in 2016 and 2017 the number of cases jumped to more than 6,000 a year.
Since mumps is caused by a virus, antibiotics can’t treat the disease. Most people recover with rest and taking fluids.
The Gallatin City-County Health Department is holding walk-in immunization clinics Feb. 13 and 14, from 9 to 11 a.m., and 1 to 4 p.m., at its office, 215 W. Mendenhall St. in Bozeman. For information call 582-3100, or visit the Centers for Disease Control website, http://www.cdc.gov/mumps/, or see the Health Department’s frequently asked questions.