An Anchorage middle school student is suspected of having mumps, a virus-caused disease that’s highly contagious for those who aren’t vaccinated against it.
In an email to Romig Middle School families, Principal Carrie Sumner said the district learned of the suspected case Thursday morning. After-school activities and field trips were canceled. Sumner wrote that the entire school building and all Romig buses would be disinfected.
“Out of an abundance of caution, the District is currently coordinating with our partners at the Municipality of Anchorage and the State Department of Health,” Sumner wrote. “The ASD Maintenance & Operations Department will be all hands on deck to disinfect the entire Romig facility and all Romig buses this afternoon.”
Dr. Michael Savitt is chief medical officer for the Anchorage Health Department. He said many viruses and illnesses can mimic mumps, like influenza, herpes, or HIV.
“It starts out with pain, fever, headache, muscle ache, and of course pain over the affected area,” Savitt said.
After that, Savitt said people may notice gland swelling on the throat. Savitt said Alaska sends its mumps tests to a lab in California for processing, so it may be three to five days before the test results are back.
Savitt said because most people in Anchorage are vaccinated against mumps, it’s unlikely to cause an outbreak. Only one case of mumps was confirmed in Alaska last year.
In 2017, state epidemiologists noted an outbreak of at least 44 cases of mumps in Anchorage, the most the state had seen since the 1970s.
The measles, mumps, and rubella, or MMR, vaccine is given to children usually at age one with a booster a few years later. The vaccine is required for students attending public schools in Alaska, but families can apply for an exemption. Savitt said he’s concerned that vaccination rates are declining in Alaska.
“We may be seeing a comeback of diseases like mumps or measles, rubella, chickenpox, all kinds of things that had all but greatly disappeared from our daily lives,” Savitt said. “They may be coming back now, if we don’t start getting vaccinated again.”
Savitt said unvaccinated people are highly likely to get mumps if exposed, and children ages 2 to 9 are the most vulnerable.