KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Mumps cases in the U.S. are the highest they've been in years with close to 3,000 cases this year. College campuses are at the center of outbreaks. There are now 73 confirmed or probable cases at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Officials with Columbia/Boone County Public Health are concerned that as students gather with family for Thanksgiving, they could pass mumps along. It can be spread when someone has the first symptoms before salivary glands swell.
A college campus is an ideal place for mumps to spread. It can be transmitted with certain behaviors that may be more common there including kissing and sharing cups, utensils or cigarettes. But mumps can also spread in close quarters.
"If you cough or sneeze, you'll put tiny microscopic droplets into the air, may go three or four feet. Not the type of infection that spreads across the room," said Dr. Michael Cooperstock with University of Missouri Health Care.
So cover that cough or sneeze in your elbow. And stay away from holiday gatherings if you have symptoms such as fever, body aches, headache and fatigue. They can occur a few days before the telltale swelling of the salivary glands.
"It's very unusual to have severe complications of the mumps. Very unusual. So it's usually a self-limited, not pleasant, but self-limited illness," said Dr. Cooperstock.
An outbreak can occur even among kids who've been vaccinated.
"The vaccine is not 100 percent effective. With one dose, it's about 78 percent. With two doses it's about 88 percent," said Cathy Shemwell with the Johnson County Health Department.
The first dose is given at 12 months and the second just before kindergarten. Shemwell says now is a good time to make sure your child has had both.
Some researchers suspect that waning immunity is a factor in the college outbreaks. They say a third dose may be needed, or the second dose might be given later. But that's not recommended for now.