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US mumps epidemic to worsen, officials say

WASHINGTON -- A Midwest mumps epidemic, already the largest US outbreak of the viral infection in decades, shows no signs of slowing and will probably spread farther before being contained, federal health officials said yesterday.

The number of cases has more than doubled in the past week, with at least 1,100 reported in Iowa and seven other states, officials said. Investigators in another seven states are also studying possible cases.

''This is an unstable situation right now," said Julie Gerberding of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. ''We're not reliably able to predict where this will go."

The CDC has dispatched teams to Iowa and Nebraska to help local and state health workers try to contain the puzzling outbreak, mainly by urging people to watch for symptoms, so they can be diagnosed and isolated quickly, and by inoculating unvaccinated adults. The epidemic has disproportionately affected young, otherwise healthy adults, including many college students. Gerberding said she expected the outbreak to worsen before it starts to ease.

''We expect more cases, definitely," said Gerberding. ''We really can't predict at this point of time where the virus will go next."

Mumps is caused by a virus that spreads like the flu, mainly from infected people coughing and sneezing. The most common symptoms are sore throat, body aches, fever, and a swelling of glands in the jaw. Most people recover within about a week, but in rare cases serious complications can occur, including deafness and meningitis.

The CDC was rushing 25,000 additional doses of mumps vaccine from its stockpile to Iowa, the epicenter of the outbreak, and another 25,000 doses to Iowa and other states, Gerberding said. Officials said they would use the vaccine to target high-risk groups, such as college students and healthcare workers.

''The best protection against the mumps is the vaccine," Gerberding said. ''We have seen that work successfully in the past. So we hope that will be successful this time."

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