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More than 2,000 quarantined over mumps outbreak at immigration detention centers

U.S. immigration authorities say over 2,200 people exposed to a mumps outbreak in at least two detention facilities have been quarantined. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Tuesday that the 25-day quarantine began March 7 at facilities in Pine Prairie, Louisiana, and Aurora, Colorado.

A spokesman said 236 detainees have had confirmed or probable cases of mumps in 51 facilities in the past year. There were no reported cases between 2016 and 2018 at any ICE facilities. In 2016, there was a measles outbreak at an immigrant detention center in Eloy, Arizona, which contributed to a statewide outbreak after some employees refused to get vaccinated.

What is mumps?

Mumps is a contagious viral disease that's easily preventable by a vaccine. It is best known for the puffy cheeks and swollen jaw that it causes, the result of swollen salivary glands. Other common symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite.

Since the U.S. mumps vaccination program began in the late 1960s, mumps infections have dropped off by 99 percent. The once-common childhood infection is now very rare. However, outbreaks still occur, particularly in settings where people have close, prolonged contact, the CDC says.

During these outbreaks, even people who previously had one or two doses of the MMR vaccine — which protects against measles, mumps and rubella — can still become infected. Scientists don't know why this is, though they believe it might be due to a poor immune response to the vaccine or that the immune system's ability to fight the infection decreased over time.

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Therefore, during a mumps outbreak, public health officials might recommend an additional dose of MMR vaccine for people at increased risk for getting mumps.

How does mumps spread?

Mumps is an extremely contagious disease spread through saliva or mucus from the mouth, nose, or throat. 

An infected person can spread the virus through coughing, sneezing or even talking. Sharing items like cups or utensils and touching objects or surfaces with unwashed hands that are then touched by others can also spread the disease.

Is there a treatment for mumps?

There is no specific treatment for mumps. Since it is viral, antibiotics are not effective. This is why it's so important to get vaccinated.