Sometimes, diseases that are rare today pop up unexpectedly, such as the recent outbreak of mumps on the warship U.S.S. Fort McHenry, where 25 sailors and marines came down with the illness. This led to the quarantine of the ship at sea for two months.
If you’re concerned about medical issues in long-term survival scenarios, it’s important to recognize the infectious diseases that may return to torment us. Children of survivors thrown off the grid for years will be unvaccinated; measles, mumps, and whooping cough will likely reappear. It’s important to be able to identify those afflicted. Today, we’ll discuss mumps.
Mumps is a viral contagious disease caused by a member of the paramyxovirus family. Although the symptoms of mumps were first described by Hippocrates (yes, that Hippocrates) in the 5th century B.C., the actual organism that caused it wasn’t identified until the mid-1930s.
Mumps was a frequent cause of hospitalizations among soldiers during World War I, surpassed only by influenza and gonorrhea. Common complications included central nervous system disorders such as deafness and meningitis, as well as infertility in adults. After vaccines were introduced in 1967, the number of cases in the U.S. dropped from 186,000 yearly to several hundred. Having said that, outbreaks still occur: 6,000 cases were reported in 2006 and 3,500 in 2009-10.
Mumps can damage the central nervous system and testicles or ovaries. it is most well-known, though, for the swelling of the glands in the face that produce saliva (the “parotid” glands). As such, a victim has a classic appearance characterized by puffed-out cheeks and a swollen jaw. Symptoms usually occur 16-18 days after exposure; fever, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue are also seen in various degrees of severity.
Mumps spreads through saliva or mucus from the mouth, nose, or throat. An infected person can spread the virus by coughing or sneezing. Other ways to transmit mumps include personal contact, touching contaminated surfaces, or sharing eating utensils. Victims continue to be contagious for up to five days after symptoms start and should be isolated.
(To learn how to establish an epidemic sick room, click here or consider a copy of our latest book “Alton’s Antibiotics and Infectious Disease”. It’s a book mostly about bacterial infectious disease and the antibiotics that treat them, but also has a chapter on sick rooms.)
Treatment is primarily supportive with bedrest and meds to lower fever and treat muscle aches. Pain in the jaws and elsewhere may be eased with the application of intermittent ice or heat to the affected areas. A soft diet, lots of fluids, and warm gargles with salt water are also helpful.
Long-term disaster events throw you back medically to an earlier time. Know how to identify and treat the diseases that circulated back then and you have a better chance to keep it together, even when everything else falls apart.
Joe Alton MD
P.S.: Good news for our military: 24 of the 25 sailors and marines on the U.S.S. Fort McHenry are back on duty, and all are expected to fully recover.
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