An outbreak of mumps has hit Toronto and health officials say many of the patients diagnosed with the contagious viral infection had previously frequented bars in the city’s west end.
Toronto Public Health (TPH) said Wednesday 14 cases of mumps had so far been confirmed in laboratory testing in patients ranging from 18 to 35 years old as of January.
“This is compared to four cases on average over the past five years,” said Dr. Vinita Dubey, associate medical officer of health for Toronto Public Health.
“Quite an increase in cases … and we know that 60 per cent of the individuals either had no vaccine or only one dose of the vaccine and so are not fully protected.”
Dubey said health officials noticed an uptick in patients with confirmed cases in the beginning of February and after the long weekend as well.
“There seems to be a link in these individuals attending west Toronto downtown bars,” she said.
“We don’t think the bars themselves are the problem, it’s just that individuals are probably sharing drinks, utensils, they may not be fully vaccinated, they may be coughing or sneezing or talking in close quarters with one another and that’s how the infection is spreading.”
Symptoms of mumps can last up to 10 days and include fever, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, loss of appetite and swelling and pain in one or more salivary glands in the sides of cheeks or jaw.
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TPH said a major factor that can contribute to a mumps outbreak includes being in a crowded environment with someone who is infected — including being in the same class, attending the same sports team or living in a dorm.
Dubey said officials are trying to determine how they can stop the spread of the virus, which starts with ensuring people are vaccinated.
“This is definitely an outbreak by definition because it’s more than the number of cases you would expect,” she said.
“We have a number of cases that we’re awaiting confirmation on as well as people hear the news and they may go to their doctor, and they should, if they have symptoms of mumps. So we are expecting the numbers to go up.”
The public is being advised to check immunizations records to ensure they are up to date with the mumps vaccine and check with healthcare providers if unsure. People born after 1970 should have two doses of the vaccine.
“Most Torontonians are definitely not at risk. We know that most children who attend school in Toronto have vaccination rates above 90 per cent for two doses of the vaccine and most individuals who were born before 1970 had mumps as a child,” Dubey said.
“So we think that in particular it’s this age group born between 1970 and 1992 who may have had only one dose or no doses of the vaccine who are particularly at risk.”
She added that those who receive two doses of the vaccine are 85 per cent protected, but one in 10 individuals who are vaccinated are still at risk of getting the infection — but it’s more likely to be less severe.
“I think what it tells us is that we cannot get lax on our vaccinations,” Dubey said.
“Infections are still here and they will still spread in individuals who are not vaccinated and especially in a place like Toronto.”
With files from Ashley Carter