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Mumps outbreak now in 8 states

CDC tracks airline passengers for possible exposure


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Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

(CNN) -- Federal health officials said Friday they are looking into whether air travel is spreading mumps through the Midwest.

Iowa has seen an epidemic of more than 600 suspected cases since December, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman. Other states reporting cases are Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin. The agency has not yet released the name of the eighth Midwestern state.

Most of the Iowa mumps cases are on college campuses, where the typical close living quarters make an ideal breeding ground for the virus. (Watch as officials try to figure out how many people may have been exposed -- 1:45)

The CDC has initiated a multistate investigation, involving state health departments, to notify passengers who were potentially exposed to two mumps-infected travelers who took nine flights on two air carriers. The agency has also been using a new computer program to track air travelers who may be virus carriers.

The CDC has identified five Northwest Airlines flights taken on March 26-29 that had stops in Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan and Washington; and four American Airlines flights taken on April 2 with stops in Arizona, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri and Iowa. (More on one passenger)

So far, no cases involving mumps transmission on those flights have been reported, CDC spokesman Curtis Allen said.

"We suspect the transmission would be very low on airline flights, ... but probably not zero," Allen added.

The mumps outbreak is the nation's largest in 20 years, according to Allen.

"We suspect it was importation from another country. There was an ongoing outbreak in Great Britain recently," Allen said. "But we can't confirm that was the source."

Still, he added, "Many of these diseases [mumps and others] are just a plane ride away."

Mumps is caused by a virus and spread by coughing and sneezing, but it is not "as contagious as influenza or measles," Allen said.

Doctors say that dealing with the mumps outbreak provides a testing opportunity for outbreaks of other diseases, such as bird flu. It also tests a system put into place after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to deal more effectively with biological emergencies.

"We can take this mumps epidemic as kind of a fire drill for what might happen if bird flu suddenly became transmissible to humans and was introduced into the United States," said Dr. William Schaffner of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Mumps is contagious from three days before a person feels ill until nine days after the onset of symptoms, according to the CDC. There is no treatment for the disease, the CDC says on its Web site; the disease must run its course.

The best protection against mumps, Allen said, is to be vaccinated. One dose is about 80 percent effective, and two doses, which is what most U.S. children get, work about 95 percent of the time, Allen said.

The introduction of the vaccine in 1967 has helped reduce mumps cases in the United States by 99 percent, he said.

Before use of the vaccine became common, almost everyone in the United States contracted mumps, and 90 percent of cases occurred among children younger than 15, according to a CDC report.

The CDC report said that in 1977 Iowa law required a single dose of a combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine for entry to public schools; in 1991 the requirement rose to two doses; and in 2004-05 97 percent of Iowa schoolchildren received two doses of MMR vaccine.

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