Al-Ahram Weekly Online   11 - 17 October 2012
Issue No. 1118
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Mumps scare

Thousands of children are suffering as a result of the recent outbreak of mumps in Egypt

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Despite the infection of more than 3,500 schoolchildren with mumps over the past few weeks, health officials insist that it is not a serious outbreak even as the disease has been spreading in schools in eight of Egypt's 27 governorates, most of them in Upper Egypt, reports Reem Leila.

The number of infections is expected to increase during the winter months, and the percentage of absences among students in these governorates has now reached 70 per cent. The most infected governorates are Qena, Luxor, Minya and Assiut, with a few cases being recorded in Cairo and Giza.

According to Eman Masoud, head of paediatrics at the Abul-Reesh Hospital, the outbreak has occurred at a time when Egypt is facing a nationwide vaccine shortage. Administrative delays have also hindered the Ministry of Health and Population from replacing expired vaccines.

"Unfortunately, children were receiving expired vaccines, and these were ineffective in combating the mumps virus," Masoud said. Masoud confirmed that although the vaccines were expired, they were not toxic and would not harm the children's health.

"Valid vaccines are available at private clinics, but their costs were very high and they were unattainable for most children," he said. "The longer the government fails to immunize children, the more vulnerable to disease they are."

The mumps vaccination is a combination vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR). It is recommended that children should receive two doses, the first at age 12-15 months and the other at age four to six.

Amr Kandil, deputy to the minister of health for preventive medicine, denied that public hospitals and health units had been provided with expired vaccine.

According to Kandil, there is a shortage of MMR vaccine across the country as a result of last year's political instability. However, the vaccine that exists has not expired. "Children older than six years old are safe and won't catch the disease as they have been vaccinated before this recent shortage," he said.

The Health Ministry will soon receive large amounts of the MMR vaccine over the coming weeks.

Kandil said that mumps is a highly contagious disease caused by the mumps virus. It is spread by saliva or mucous droplets from the mouth, nose, or throat of an infected person, usually when the person coughs, sneezes, or talks.

Different objects used by the infected person, such as eating utensils, cups, and towels, can be contaminated with the virus, which may spread to others if these items are shared. The virus may also spread when an infected person touches surfaces without washing their hands and someone else touches the same surface and then rubs their mouth or nose.

Mumps usually begins with a few days of high fever, headaches, muscle aches, and loss of appetite. It can cause serious complications, such as deafness and brain inflammation. Anyone who is not vaccinated against the disease can easily catch mumps.

"The incubation period of the disease can last 12 to 25 days; however, infected persons can transfer the disease to others within the first 10 days. After the end of five days, patients will not transfer the disease to others," Kandil said.

Children should receive the two doses of the vaccine, as one dose is not enough to provide immunity against the disease. "One dose of MMR provides children with 78 per cent immunity, while this percentage increases to 95 per cent in cases where children are vaccinated with both doses," Kandil said.

"Mumps is a winter disease, and more infections are yet to take place," Kandil added. "However, once infected, you are immunized for life." There have been no reports of death, and despite the escalation in the number of cases, there was no need to panic, he said.

The first MMR vaccine became available in 1967, reducing mumps prevalence in all countries by 99 per cent.

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