By Elizabeth Sitotombe
HARARE Health Department director, Dr Prosper Chonzi, has raised an alert over an infectious disease, mumps or mahumunya, that has been recorded in the city recently.
According to Dr Chonzi, Harare Metropolitan Province has reported mumps in our health centres and community (schools), “…we, therefore, request through your wider networks to communicate with parents and guardians referencing this letter to mobilise them to bring forward all children and adults who got infected or are currently infected with mumps to visit their council health centres and cite this letter to their care providers.”
It is worrisome that some of these diseases are re-emerging as a result of low vaccine coverage.
In Zimbabwe, vaccination coverage dropped during the COVID-19 outbreak as the main focus was on treating and managing COVID-19, thus contributing to the rise in infections in the country.
However, mumps are not the only vaccine-preventable infection that has resurfaced; a measles outbreak in all the country’s 10 provinces affected children last year.
In Malawi, a wild polio virus has resurfaced.
Also contributing to this rise in infections are those whose religious beliefs discourage them from getting their children vaccinated.
Other African countries, including South Africa, Botswana and Lesotho, have experienced similar outbreaks, with South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) having declared an outbreak of mumps in May.
Mumps is caused by a virus. The virus is in the saliva. They affect parotid glands found on each side of the face.
Parotid glands make saliva.
When affected, these glands may be tender and painful.
Mumps spread easily for about five days after swelling starts.
The swelling of the salivary glands gives the patient a hamster-like face.
It is a condition that peaks during the winter season.
Coughing or sneezing can release tiny droplets with the virus into the air.
One can get the virus by breathing in tiny droplets, touching a surface where droplets have landed and then proceeding to touch one’s face. You can pick up the virus from direct contact, such as kissing or sharing a water bottle.
Symptoms of mumps may present two to three weeks after exposure to the virus. Some may have no symptoms or very mild symptoms.
Symptoms may be similar to those of flu.
This includes fever, headaches, muscle pain, lack of appetite and fatigue. Glands may start swelling a few days later — one or both glands on the sides of the face may swell.
Complications of mumps can arise when the virus reaches other tissues in the body, especially among the unvaccinated. Sometimes a person’s salivary glands may not swell.
Complications can lead to swollen testicles, especially if one catches mumps after puberty. The swollen testicles cause severe pain and the swelling may lead to a decrease in the size of testicles and a decline in fertility.
In females, the ovaries may swell, especially after puberty. One may experience vomiting, fever or stomach pain. However, the infection may not cause infertility in females; but getting mumps during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy may increase chances of a miscarriage.
Mumps can also cause damage to the pancreas (pancreatitis)due to swelling. Symptoms may include vomiting, fever and pain or tenderness near the stomach.
Meningitis may also be a complication but meningitis-related mumps rarely cause long-term problems. Hearing complications may develop suddenly or over time which, however, can get better as one overcomes the illness.
Getting vaccinated also helps prevent mumps infections. Those who do contract the mumps usually have milder symptoms and lesser complications.
Once someone has had mumps, he/she usually develops immunity to future infections. However, very few people can get re-infected but may have a milder illness.
The mumps vaccine is given as a combined measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine in Zimbabwe.
Antibiotics cannot be used to treat mumps as it is a viral illness whose only treatment only helps to relieve symptoms until the infection has run its course.
At this point, one can take pain killers to alleviate the pain. One may also gargle with warm salt water and should eat mushy or liquid food as chewing may be painful.
It is important, however, to seek medical help if one suspects mumps in the family or community. However, precautionary measures, such as hand washing and sanitising of hands, covering one’s mouth or nose when coughing and sneezing, can help prevent the spread of infection.