As thousands of cheerleaders exposed, what to know about the mumps

Texas health officials are warning the public about a possible mumps exposure.

ByABC News
March 7, 2018, 10:27 PM

Texas health officials are warning the public that thousands of cheerleaders may have been exposed to mumps at a national competition in Dallas last month.

Competitors from 39 states and nine countries were present at the National Cheerleaders Association All-Star National Championship from Feb. 23 to Feb. 25, according to the Dallas Morning News, where they may have been exposed to the disease after a person with mumps attended the event.

Following this potential exposure, there have been no reported cases to date, though symptoms may not appear for two weeks or at all.

Mumps is a viral illness, usually prevented by the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine. Here are some of the common questions about the mumps:

PHOTO: Electron micrograph of the mumps virus.
Electron micrograph of the mumps virus.

What is mumps and what happens to your body if you get it?

Mumps is an infection from a virus. It spreads through airborne transmission or by direct contact by saliva droplets, and it can be infectious days before any symptoms begin. It spreads in a way very similar to the flu.

Is it contagious?

Mumps is as contagious as influenza and rubella, but less so than for measles or varicella. The mumps virus, spread in the same way as influenza, can be contagious at least 5 days from onset of facial swelling.

What are the symptoms?

Some people experience no symptoms at all. In most people, they may have a fever, feel tired and achy, have a headache, or have a loss in appetite. About two weeks after being exposed to the virus, the parotid gland (in your face, right in front of the ears and above the jaw) becomes swollen, known as parotitis. A swollen face is a classic sign of mumps.

How is it diagnosed?

Again, like the flu, a diagnosis can be made based on clinical symptoms, and then confirmed by finding the virus with a blood test or using an oral swab. A spinal tap is needed if meningitis or encephalitis (pressure on the brain caused by swelling) is suspected to be caused by mumps.

Are there precautions people should take to help prevent mumps?

Mumps is prevented by vaccination prior to exposure. Two doses of the MMR vaccine are usually required for children to begin school. A booster vaccine can be considered if you’ve been exposed during an outbreak, though two doses of the vaccine are about 88 percent effective at preventing infection.

What are possible complications?

The most common complication is orchitis (testicular inflammation), which can lead to sterility. Other complications seen more commonly before the MMR vaccine included pancreatitis, deafness, and even death.

What are the treatments?

As with many viral infections, there are no specific antiviral medications for mumps. Patients can use acetaminophen for fever or pain, as well as warm pack for the facial swelling.

Dr. Hector M. Florimon is a third-year resident in pediatrics at New York Presbyterian-Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, working in the ABC News Medical Unit.