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Possible mumps cases put region on the alert

2 local students have symptoms

Local officials are keeping a close watch for any further signs of mumps in the wake of at least two suspected cases in the area, and an outbreak of the disease in the Midwest.

According to Peter Mirandi, the public health director in Danvers, a student at the Highland Elementary School contracted what is believed to be mumps about two weeks ago.

A student at Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School, meanwhile, recently came down with what is suspected to be mumps, according to Gail Messelaar, administrative assistant to the Hamilton Board of Health.

An acute contagious viral disease, mumps was once common but has been relatively rare since the introduction of a vaccine in 1967. The disease is normally mild, with the most common symptom a swelling of the cheeks and jaw due to inflammation of the salivary glands, according to the state Department of Public Health's website. It can also cause headache, stiff neck, and loss of appetite.

However, in some cases, it causes more serious symptoms, including inflammation of the membrane that covers the brain and the spinal cord, and inflammation of the brain itself.

Since 2001, about 265 confirmed cases have been reported annually nationwide, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Massachusetts had seven confirmed cases last year, according to Donna Rheaume, with the state Department of Public Health.

But a recent outbreak of mumps, primarily in the Midwest and principally in Iowa, has prompted health officials to become more vigilant. As of last Friday, there have been 3,268 mumps cases reported to the CDC since the outbreak began in December, including 1,674 confirmed, probable, and suspected in Iowa, according to CDC spokeswoman Lola Russell. She said Massachusetts is not among the states involved in the outbreak.

Mirandi said the case in Danvers is considered unconfirmed, pending the completion of lab tests. He declined to provide further details, but said the student had ''recovered 100 percent."

''It's an isolated case," said Mirandi, who has not seen a confirmed incident of mumps in Danvers since he became the town's health director 15 years ago.

Mirandi said Danvers residents should not be nervous. ''Public health officials are working closely with school officials at a variety of levels to ensure the close management of this case."

A clinic was scheduled at the school yesterday to offer booster vaccinations for people who may have had contact with the child.

If the case is identified as mumps, Mirandi said, it would be a ''mystery" as to how it was contracted, since the student is fully vaccinated against the disease. Federal health officials recommend that all children receive two doses of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMR), one administered near their first birthday and the other between the ages of 4 and 6.

The CDC website calls the vaccine the best defense against the disease but not a perfect one. According to the agency, one dose prevents about 80 percent of mumps cases and two doses prevent about 90 percent.

A report by Iowa health authorities on its mumps outbreak, posted on the CDC website, said that 79 percent of the patients whose vaccine histories were studied had documentation of receiving either one or two doses of the vaccine.

Messelaar said the unconfirmed case at Hamilton-Wenham is the first case resembling mumps she remembers in the nearly 10 years she has been in her job. She said the regional school, which is in Hamilton, notified parents in both of its towns and offered vaccinations to school staff members after the male student became ill.

Sunny Robinson, the public health nurse in Gloucester, said there have been no reported cases of mumps. But in light of the outbreak in Iowa, she said, ''Everyone has had their ears opened a little to the possibilities."

Robinson said after hearing about the suspected case at Hamilton-Wenham, her office faxed a memo to primary care providers in Gloucester.

According to Rheaume, there have been 65 suspected cases of mumps reported to the state this year. Two have been confirmed, one in Springfield and the other in Norwood.

''We are doing intense surveillance on mumps due to the situation in Iowa," she said. ''We are keeping a close eye on it."

For more information on mumps, go to www.mass.gov/dph/cdc/ factsheets/fsmump.pdf.

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