Mumps outbreak now in 8 states

CDC tracks airline passengers for possible exposure


Friday, April 14, 2006 Posted: 2302 GMT (0702 HKT)

Sandy Jirsa looks at mumps samples at the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory in Coralville.

Health Library

(CNN) -- Federal health officials said Friday they are looking into whether air travel is spreading mumps through the Midwest.

In addition to Iowa, which has seen an epidemic of more than 600 suspected cases since December, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman, other states reporting cases are Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin. The agency has not yet released the name of the eighth Midwestern state.

Most of the Iowa mumps cases are on college campuses where close living quarters make an ideal breeding ground for the virus. (Watch as officials try to figure out how many people may have been exposed -- 1:45)

The CDC has initiated a multistate investigation, involving state health departments, to notify passengers who were potentially exposed to two mumps-infected travelers who took nine flights involving two air carriers. The agency has also been using a new software system to track air travelers who may be virus carriers.

The CDC has identified five Northwest Airlines flights taken on March 26-29 involving stops in Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan and Washington; and four American Airlines flights taken on April 2 involving stops in Arizona, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Iowa. (More on one passenger)

So far, no cases involving mumps transmission on those flights have been reported, said CDC spokesman Curtis Allen.

"We suspect the transmission would be very low on airline flights ... but probably not zero," Allen added.

The mumps outbreak is the nation's largest in 20 years, according to Allen.

"We suspect it was importation from another country. There was an ongoing outbreak in Great Britain recently," Allen said. "But we can't confirm that was the source."

Still, he added, "Many of these diseases (mumps and others) are just a plane ride away."

Mumps is caused by a virus and spread by coughing and sneezing, but it is not "as contagious as influenza or measles," Allen said.

The most common symptoms are fever, headache and swollen salivary glands under the jaw. Severe complications from the disease are rare but can include meningitis, encephalitis, inflammation of the testicles or ovaries and deafness.

Mumps is contagious from three days before a person feels sick until nine days after the onset of symptoms, according to a CDC statement. There is no treatment for the disease, the CDC says on its Web site; the disease must run its course.

The best protection against mumps, Allen said, is to be vaccinated. One dose is about 80 percent effective, and two, which is what most U.S. children get, work about 95 percent of the time, Allen said.

The introduction of the vaccine in 1967 has helped reduce mumps cases in the United States by 99 percent, he said.