A small mumps outbreak in the fall has now turned into the highest outbreak in two decades. We spoke with one of the top medical officers in the province for advice on keeping our families health.

Dr. Richard Rusk is the Chief Occupational Medical Officer of Communicable Diseases with Manitoba Health. He told us that between September 1, 2016 and February 24, 2017 there have been 176 confirmed cases of mumps in the province.

Rusk says that one of the biggest difficulties in containing mumps is that people are often contagious before they have any symptoms, potentially spreading the virus to others.

Mumps outbreaks generally progress through direct contact and saliva. That's why sports teams tend to be hard-hit; "obviously in football or hockey there's a lot of contact, and then there's a lot of sharing of water bottles," Rusk said.

Spikes in outbreaks aren't totally unheard of. Rusk told us, "there's always waxing and waning, but thanks to the vaccine we would normally see about four, or eight in a really bad year. So if you even have a little outbreak of 20 cases, well, then, you've more than doubled it."

So, who is most at risk? "Obviously the unvaccinated population is what we worry about the most. But then the next people would be those who are immune-compromised, undergoing cancer treatments, etc."

Rusk also points out that pregnant women could experience a change in their immune status. Infants who have not yet been vaccinated are most at risk, as well as "much older people, but that's due to secondary health issues often."

People who think they might have mumps, or have been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with mumps, should phone their health-care provider or phone Health Links-Info Sante at 204-788-8200 or 1-888-315-9257 (toll-free) for more information.

Best tips for staying healthy & keeping others healthy

  • Vaccination is simply the starting point, Rusk says. Ensure that your children and your own vaccinations are all up to date.
  • Self-isolation is also very important. "When you're showing symptoms you're putting out a lot of virus. It's good for the health of everyone else."
  • Wash your hands regularly.
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
  • Do not share eating utensils, cups, water bottles, etc.
  • Clean surfaces that are touched regularly.
  • If you are sick, limit contact with people that live with you.

Symptoms to watch for

  • According to Manitoba Health, symptoms generally occur between 12 to 25 days after infection and resolve three to ten days after onset of illness.
  • The most common are fever and swollen cheeks and neck.
  • Swollen cheeks and neck are due to swollen glands, usually under the ears or jaw on one or both sides of the face.
  • Approximately 20% of those infected with mumps will not show any symptoms.
  • Nearly half of those infected have mainly respiratory symptoms.