Shows need for Vaccinations
Last month 17 millennials who were having a nice social evening at a sports bar in Toronto came down with the mumps, a viral infection known as Epidemic Parotitis, for which we have a vaccine. In the same month several players for the Vancouver Canucks hockey team were benched because they had come down with contagious mumps. The same thing happened to the Brandon Wheat Kings in Manitoba and the Medicine Hat Tigers in Alberta. Do you remember the NHL hockey season in 2014 when several players came down with the mumps including the great Sidney Crosby? (pictured above with a case of the mumps)
What all these victims have in common, besides the swollen glands, fever and aches that characterize the illness, is that they are young and tend to live and play in communal settings such as restaurants and bars where saliva are shared, willingly and otherwise, by sharing of drinks, water bottles, kissing and incidental physical contact.
My first thought when reading about these cases was that these victims had not been vaccinated. But this was not the case. An examination of their medical histories showed that they were under-vaccinated.
When the mumps vaccine was introduced in Canada in 1970 (1967 in the United States), it was assumed that one dose would be sufficient. But over time it became clear that the vaccine lost its protection and a booster shot was necessary.
In 1996, Canada moved to a two dose schedule. Today, most children get a combined measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine at 12 months and again at 15 months or age 4, depending on where they live. In some provinces they get chickenpox vaccine at the same time (MMRV).
What this means is that most children born before 1996, the demographics of NHL players, avid bar-goers and university students, have waning immunity. Also many kids born after 1996 only received one shot, especially if they moved provinces. Why we do not have a National Health Care system that includes a National Vaccination Program for Canada, rather than a different plan in each province just baffles me.
All of these fun-loving, saliva-sharing enthusiasts need a booster shot and when that does not happen we get small epidemics of mumps that could grow even larger.
The other reason we are having these outbreaks is because the number of people who are vaccinated is falling. When large numbers of people are immunized, 90 per cent, there is herd immunity. This means that even those who are not vaccinated are protected because the virus cannot get a foothold. But today, with childhood vaccination rates as low as 70 per cent in some provinces and even as low as 40 per cent in some isolated communities, it is much easier for the pathogens to spread.
Since we take vaccination for granted, it has been decades since childhood illnesses were widespread and we tend to forget the horrific damage they can inflict. I came down with bulbar Polio when I was 10 years old, 2 years before the Salk vaccine was introduced. Fortunately I survived it with no adverse effects, but the majority of polio victims have been disabled for life and many children died.
Most of us think of mumps as an illness characterized by swelling of the glands, giving sufferers chipmunk-like cheeks. But that swelling can also happen to the testicles and can lead to infertility. Of the 17 cases in Toronto, 5 of them suffered orchitis, which is the medical term for swelling of the testes. In some cases, the fever that accompanies mumps can cause deafness, or lead to life-threatening conditions such as pancreatitis, and meningitis (swelling of the brain).
If you or any of your children were born prior to 1996 you should consider getting a booster shot for the mumps virus. In any case consult with your family physician and check your immunization schedule to make sure you are protected.
If left undiagnosed it could be very dangerous and many young physicians have never seen a case and could misdiagnose it as something else. This could be very dangerous. See your doctor and make sure all your vaccinations are up-to-date.