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Mumps outbreak hasn't reached the North, at least not yet

Health unit advises vigilance, calls on parents to ensure kids are vaccinated
NHL star Sidney Crosby came down with the mumps during the 2014-2015 hockey season. An outbreak of mumps that has hit the U.S. and Canada – including Ontario – hasn't affected Sudbury, but the Sudbury and District Health Unit is still concerned. (YouTube)

An outbreak of mumps that has hit the U.S. and Canada – including Ontario – hasn't affected Sudbury, but the Sudbury and District Health Unit is still concerned.

As of Wednesday, more than 40 cases of the disease have been reported in southern Ontario this year, including 31 in Toronto. There have been 176 cases diagnosed in Manitoba since September, and 17 cases have been reported in Alberta, as well.

Kim Presta, who's responsible for control of infectious diseases for the local health unit, said Sudbury hasn't had a reported case since 2010.

"But there are always concerns,” Presta said Thursday. “This is something that is immediately reportable to health units. We want to make sure that this is something health-care providers do.

“We also advise people that if they're going to come in and see their health-care provider ... that they call ahead if they think they might have mumps."

The tell-tale sign of the mumps is swelling on one side of the cheeks and jaw,  as well as headaches, fever, muscle ache and pains, and loss of appetite. Symptoms can last up to 10 days.

Presta said health officials in southern Ontario are currently trying to figure out what is causing the outbreak.

"They're looking at people's immune status, whether they have been getting their vaccinations," she said. “Sometimes it's people coming in from other countries on a different vaccine schedule, or it could be local people who are anti-vaxxers who don't believe in vaccines."

At least three of the high school students in Toronto who got the disease weren't vaccinated. Presta said infants get their first vaccine for mumps, measles and rubella at 12 months, then another at age four or five for the three diseases, as well as chicken pox.

"It's so important that parents have their kids vaccinated,” she said. “That's the best prevention."

The outbreak has been limited to younger people – ages 18-35 – while people born before 1970 are considered immune. Part of the reason health officials are concerned is because mumps is so contagious.

"It's spread through a droplet — that's person-to-person through coughing, sneezing, contact with saliva glands,” she said. “So we discourage people from sharing drinks, utensils, kissing, if you have symptoms."

That's one of the reasons sports teams are particularly vulnerable, because they are in close quarters with one another. There was an outbreak that hit the Vancouver Canucks this year. The Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL were also hit. Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby was among a group of players diagnosed with the virus during the 2014-15 season.

It typically takes two to three weeks to get symptoms after you’ve been exposed, although some people who are infected with the virus don’t get symptoms. Provincial law states that all children going to school in Ontario must be vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella, unless they are excused for medical or philosophical reasons.

For more information, go to the health unit's website.